Danielle Chieffo’s path to becoming first Nassau BOCES female culinary staffer
When professional baker Danielle Chieffo became the first female chef to be named culinary instructor at the Nassau BOCES Barry Tech career and technical education high school, it marked a major milestone for someone who didn’t initially start out on this career path.
“I was a bit of a theater kid. I studied opera and musical theater all the way up through college. I actually went to Queens College for two years for musical performance and opera,” the Massapequa resident admitted. “My mom was family and consumer science teacher and she always baked me these awesome cakes for my birthday. I decided I wanted to get into it myself and a hobby built into this passion for baking and pastry.”
Having served for the past three years as a teaching assistant at Barry Tech, Chieffo is currently teaching an a.m. class for special needs students called Culinary Skills and a p.m. class for seniors. The Queens native is bringing considerable industry and educational chops to her young charges. In addition to being a pastry chef at Eisenhower Park dining destination The Carltun, she was also a baker assistant at Bare Naked Bakery in Bellmore and held key positions with the Whole Foods multinational supermarket chain as a shift leader, team leader and member of the bakery production team. Chieffo is also owner of Cutie Oodie Cakes custom bakery in Massapequa. a business she started out of her home that creates custom creations that she started eight years ago, long before she attended culinary school at the Miami campus of Johnson & Wales University. Now that she has a classroom of her own, she intends to continue and expand on the important work she has been doing.
“What I love most about this program is that it’s all inclusive,” she said. “We teach all skill levels, confident in the knowledge that there is a job for everyone.”
In addition to her work as a teaching assistant at Barry Tech, Chieffo has spent the past three years serving as culinary instructor at the school’s annual Summer Camp delivered in conjunction with Hofstra University. Here, Chieffo teaches Culinary I and Advanced Baking and Pastry. She has also taught baking and cake decorating in the adult education program at Sewanhaka High School and has served as a baking coach, delivering baking classes in schools and libraries throughout Long Island. Her summer camp instruction has required the baking master to tweak her teaching approach as her students are more in the middle school range.
“You have to keep them constantly engaged. And now that we’re in an age where we’re glued to our cell phones, it’s an obstacle you have to plan for in order to keep the students busy at all times,” she explained. “With most of our classes, we try to keep it trendy. With my Advanced Baking and Pastry class, we’ll watch an episode of Nailed It, which is a very popular Netflix show. Then we’ll try to recreate the cake they tried to make on the show. So I try to keep it fun and change it up every year. I do have many kids come back and take my class again. So I do change my curriculum a little bit here and there.”
The decision to become an educator may have been delayed, but given the grind of working in the restaurant industry, Chieffo is happy she altered her career path.
“I started out working for The Carltun, in Eisenhower Park, but the whole working 80 hours a week wasn’t working for me. But I still wanted to be able to be able to find a way to be in the kitchen. I wanted to have the uniform on and get my hands dirty. Although I pushed education off for a while, I still wanted to give teaching a shot,” she said. “There was a TA (teacher’s assistant) position available at Barry Tech in the culinary department. I jumped right into it. It was my chance, so I interviewed, lucked out and got the position. I was a TA for three years. Then two of our chefs retired. I was hungry for the position. Plus Barry Tech has never had a female chef instructor before. I felt that was really important for the school to have, whether it was me or somebody else. We had to let our students know that this industry is for everyone now and it’s not what it used to be.”
Chieffo’s passion found her coaching three students in last year’s Skills USA, a large competition for CTE (career and technical education) students. The trio went to States with one pupil taking first place for cake decorating and another finishing third in the commercial baking category. The latter also went to Kentucky to compete in Nationals. It’s all been very rewarding for the toque-wearing trailblazer.
“This is my first year coaching, so I was a proud culinary mama. Two of those girls are actually coming by for alumni day to visit and my Nationals student is now a senior and he wrote his college essay about me,” she said. “Just knowing that you may not affect every single student, but if you can really make a difference with a handful and they can look back and thank you for what you did for them, it’s worth it. Plus, I’m doing what I love and sharing it with students who are as passionate about it as I am.”