Class of 2012
Jacqueline Perkins ’12 has more than 21 cousins on her mother’s side of the family so it’s no surprise that she’s always loved the hustle and bustle (and great food) of large family gatherings.
But, she may just enjoy the preparation as much as the gatherings themselves.
“We have Super Bowl parties, and we always put together a big menu,” she says. Everyone in her family asks: “What are you cooking?” Then they ask themselves: “What am I cooking?”
As a high school junior in Riverdale, New York, Perkins knew she wanted to go to the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell. In fact, it was her first choice. “Because it’s the best,” she says. “It’s the number one hotel school, and I knew I could participate in the hotel leadership development program, and the school has so many resources.”
As a Cornell freshman, Perkins arrived planning to take advantage of those resources. She planned to learn and experience as much as possible to help her realize her big dream: opening a restaurant to employ and, essentially, help fund communities in need.
Her father’s volunteer work, tutoring at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, helped solidify that dream and ignite her passion for helping others. It also opened her eyes to the isolation and desperation of people who are incarcerated and demonstrated the importance of a funding stream independent of the government. “The program my dad worked for got its funds cut when taxpayers started saying, ‘Why are we helping pay for the education of prisoners?’” she recalls.
Now, with graduation around the corner, Perkins is well positioned to make her dream come true. With her degree from the Culinary Institute of America (which she earned thanks to Cornell’s joint-degree program with the institute in Poughkeepsie, New York), her bachelor’s degree from the School of Hotel Administration, and her impressive work history with the Statler Culinary Department (where she’s worked more than 1,200 hours in her four years at Cornell), Eli Zabar’s, and the Tribeca Grill, Perkins has experience in nearly every aspect of the restaurant business: purchasing, wait staff experience, cooking, hosting, and managing.
In addition to providing her with work experience, Cornell offered Perkins opportunities to develop her leadership skills.
“If you ask anyone, I’m the loud one,” she says with a laugh. “I get involved in a lot of different things. And, because I did the pre-freshman summer program, I have friends who are engineers, who are in Human Ecology, AAP [Architecture, Arts, and Planning], and Arts and Sciences.”
Since her sophomore year, she has been active in the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, which aims to increase diversity in the industry, especially among leadership. She graduates as the Cornell chapter president. One of the other activities Perkins found very meaningful was her work as a statistics class tutor with the Cornell Prison Education Program, a program that offers college courses to men incarcerated in maximum-security prisons in New York State.
“It was an amazing experience,” Perkins says. “If you think Cornell students are serious, these men put us to shame. They really do take their education very, very seriously.”
Perkins would often return from the prison with a renewed and strengthened sense of urgency about her own studies. “If you’re going to do something,” she says, “you might as well go all-in.”
She has. Most recently she helped organize the Big Red Showcase. The event, hosted by the National Society for Minorities in Hospitality, featured the talents and abilities of a diverse selection of Cornell students. “It was an opportunity to showcase diversity in a fun way, to connect based on talents—not race, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation,” Perkins says.
The event included student performances in five categories: music, dance, comedy, spoken word, and cultural spirit. Held in the Alice Statler Auditorium, the showcase began with a reception and food stations featuring student-prepared food.
“We had a culinary team, a recipe team, a purchasing team … When I had to leave, I put a freshman student in charge as sous chef. I told her, ‘Get everybody started on their tasks,’ and when I came back in 30 minutes,” she recalls, “everybody was working on what they needed to do.”
More than 200 people came to the showcase of food and talent.
“Because it was so student-run, you got to see student development, especially for freshmen. Now they can say: ‘I’ve done this and this and this,’” she says. “These experiences help us become industry leaders once we graduate.”
Not only did extracurricular experiences help shape Perkins’ Cornell experience, but her coursework and professors also played an important role. This semester, her favorite class was Beverage Management with Stephen Mutkoski, the Banfi Vintners Professor of Wine Education and Management. “You think you buy alcohol and that’s it, you’re done,” she says. “You learn it’s much more complicated and interesting than that. It’s about understanding your demographics, understanding pricing strategy, and what brand you put on your bar.”
Another favorite teacher was Giuseppe Pezzotti, a senior lecturer at the school. “He’s an advisor to everybody,” Perkins says. “He remembers everybody’s name. He always looks out for people and asks them how they’re doing.”
The concern for others that Pezzotti exhibits is important to Perkins. As a Cornell Tradition Fellow she completed more than 300 hours of campus and community service, and as a Cornell graduate she plans to continue that tradition of caring.
“Every time I think about food, I think about family and having a good time,” she says. “My career will be about creating the same kind of experience for people, creating memories for people, but it will also have a social enterprise aspect that will help the community I’m in.”