Cooking up a successful career - City Tech product has a winning recipe for achievement

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Once an aspiring pastry chef, Reem Assad is one smart cookie. A senior in the award-winning baccalaureate program in hospitality management at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), her academic excellence and the energy she has brought to an array of food industry-related community activities garnered her the first ever Twin Marquis Scholarship in 2007. Then, as the icing on the cake, she recently learned that she had been named one of three City Tech recipients of a 2008 Brooklyn Eats Scholarship.

The Twin Marquis Scholarship recognizes distinguished City Tech students and is funded by TMI Food Group, the biggest dumpling and noodle producer on the Eastern Seaboard. Terry Tang, the firm’s CEO and a member of the City Tech Foundation’s board of directors, established the scholarship program as part of the firm’s growing commitment to heighten public awareness of good health through a variety of educational endeavors throughout the multicultural communities it serves. Reem Assad’s many co-curricular activities on behalf of both the College and the larger community exemplified perfectly that TMI objective.

During the past four semesters, Reem’s career interests in the hospitality field have shifted from becoming a pastry chef to eventually establishing herself as an authority and writer on food-related topics of public interest that address issues of proper nutrition. “What we put inside our bodies is so very important,” she says, “not only to our individual and family health but to the well being of our nation. While we’re probably the best-fed people on Earth, we are now coming to the realization that the quality of what we eat matters a whole lot more than the quantity.”

Food has always been a central theme in the lives of the Assad family. Reem’s father, who was born in Palestine, operates a large supermarket in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park section, and the kitchen in the Assad family’s Bay Ridge home is where you’ll almost certainly find her mother, a native of Venezuela who loves to cook and does a great job of it.

“I really didn’t know anything about food when I was a girl,” Reem notes. “About all I knew was that it came in bags, boxes, cans and jars and that my father was always bringing lots of it home to my mother, who would turn what was in those containers into delicious meals. But as far as I was concerned, food was just something you put inside your body when you were hungry, and kids get hungry a lot.

“Also, I come from a really big family that doesn’t miss an opportunity to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and every holiday imaginable. You name it and we celebrate it. There are lots of parties with lots of good food. We love to cook and we love to eat.”

When she enrolled in college in fall 2004 and had to select a major, Reem figured that pursuing a career in the culinary and pastry arts was the right one in view of her family’s affection for food. “My mom’s desserts were really great and dessert was my favorite course at dinnertime and party time. Pastry chefs make a pretty good living and I figured I’d give it a try.”

But all of that would change one day with a startlingly simple question asked by a little boy, as Reem and her classmates worked with fourth and fifth grade school children to enhance their understanding of how fruits and vegetables make their way from regional farms to the local marketplace.

“We were describing an apple orchard,” Reem recalls, “when this little boy asked what an apple was. A few more questions and answers established that his knowledge of where food came from was limited to neighborhood grocery stores and fast-food restaurants, soda dispensers and junk food machines. I had to hold back the tears.”

That incident was a defining moment is Reem Assad’s life. “It was the moment I knew that everything I had read and studied about how poorly so many people are nourished and how little most people know about the importance of a healthy diet was true. I knew I wanted to devote my life to changing peoples’ eating habits for the better.”

One report on childhood obesity in America that Reem had encountered in her studies suggested that the life expectancy of today’s children might be less than that of their parents because of increasing health problems stemming from poor eating habits. “For example, everything bad you’ve ever read and heard about the quality of the food that many of our schools have been feeding kids is true,” she insists. “But, luckily, that’s beginning to change, and I intend to do everything I can to advance the awareness that will speed that change.”

Reem’s performance has been as good as her word. During her years at City Tech, she volunteered her time as a culinary assistant with the local Days of Taste program to work with some of the city top chefs in preparing dishes for children’s food education projects. And she has devoted her time to recruiting and training other college students to do the same.

In addition, she has served as president of City Tech’s Spoons Across America Club, a student group affiliated with a community-based organization that works to raise children’s awareness of nutritional issues, and as vice president of the College’s Food & Wine Club. From 2005 to 2007, she worked with Bear Dallis Associates’ events planning operation to help stage part of the acclaimed Brooklyn Eats foodfest and later to help stage Grand Gourmet, an annual tasting event hosted by Grand Central Terminal chefs to promote healthy eating. From 2004-2007, she volunteered her time and talent to assist Union Square restaurant chefs in preparing sample portions for the popular Harvest in the Square tasting event. During this same period she helped with various Days of Taste events held at Gracie Mansion.

In spring 2005, she published her first article in the American Institute of Wine & Food newsletter, “The Cutting Board,” and has set her career sights on doing a lot more writing in the years to come. “I don’t plan to be a food or restaurant critic,” she notes, “but a food educator. Food, you know, brings people together more than just about anything else. I want to help bring every single American together with an awareness of the importance of nutritious food and a healthy diet to everything else in life.” Reem has been offered an internship with “Food Art” magazine after graduation.

Reem was delighted when selected as recipient of the first Twin Marquis Scholarship. “My relationship with the people at Twin Marquis,” she says, “has been a very rewarding experience. I am grateful for the help they are giving me and for their commitment to producing a great variety of healthy foods and doing everything they can to assist the public in understanding the importance of eating right.”

Reem was delighted to learn earlier this spring that she has been named recipient of a 2008 Brooklyn Eats Scholarship and was part of a scholarship awards ceremony hosted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and other event organizers and participants.

City Tech is located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex.

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