Connections Summer 2016 Features

Learning to Serve Up the Sweetness in Life

by Hope Ferguson

Learning to Serve Up the Sweetness in Life

Working under the head pastry chef at the fine Italian eatery, Osteria Cicchetti, MacKenzie Clements creates confections for five of the top restaurants in Wilmington, N.C. Besides Osteria Cicchetti, the chefs bake for Osteria Cicchetti II, Boca Bistro, Circa 1922 and Brasserie. Clements, originally from Waterford, N.Y., moved south this year, after earning her culinary degree at Schenectady County Community College. She continued to take courses for a bachelor’s degree in food management through Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning.

“Pastries were not my initial career choice,” she explains. “I attended SUNY Oneonta with a double major in psychology and nutrition to be a nutritional therapist. After one year in the program, I felt I was moving in the wrong direction and decided to try culinary school, because I had always baked when I needed an outlet. I was attracted to pastries instantaneously. I knew this would be my dream career by the end of my first Elements of Baking course. The science and precise nature of pastry is appealing to me, as well as the aspect of always having something more to learn, even when you have been in the industry for a lifetime.”

Clements began to learn the craft at a local bakery in Clifton Park, N.Y., called Dolce and Biscotti. “They took me in and agreed to train me while I was attending culinary school, even though I had no previous experience. My degree from Schenectady County Community College and training from Dolce and Biscotti gave me an incredible entrance into the industry.”

A year after graduating from culinary school, Clements was looking to earn a degree in Business, Management and Economics, so she could run her own enterprise someday. Her mother, who knew about Empire State College’s flexibility and the availability of online courses, suggested it to her. This was especially appealing “because I knew I would want to travel to gain pastry experience as well.” She especially noted how her mentor, Sue Epstein, spent time discussing her future plans, helping her design “the exact degree program for me. She took time to understand what I wanted and how I would benefit most from the programs the college offers. The decision to go to SUNY Empire was a great one,” she says. The proof is in the pudding as she graduated in June 2016 with a degree in food business management.