Drexel student Charmaine Patterson cooks food in the kitchen at the University. Photo courtesy: Charmaine Patterson.
Charmaine Patterson was looking for opportunities to offset her student debt and make her future culinary dreams come true when she applied for a $10,000 grant through The National Restaurant Association. Little did the fourth-year culinary arts major who recently transferred to Drexel University know this application would lead to an award of more than double that amount bestowed to her live on Facebook by none other than chef, restauranter and Emmy-award-winning icon Guy Fieri.
The spectacle was part of “Guy’s Restaurant Reboot” which took place on June 12. The event provided encouragement and navigation to the next generation of restaurant owners while also doling out $300,000 in grant funding.
Sponsored by Lendingtree and in partnership with The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, the program awarded funds to 11 winners to create and maintain their restaurants — including Patterson (who formerly went by her married name Royal), who was awarded a $25,000 scholarship to Drexel and help realize her own dreams of one day becoming a restaurateur.
In this Q&A with DrexelNow, Patterson opens up about this and other important experiences and dreams that helped pave the way for this delicious opportunity, from working full-time in the food industry to help support nurses and doctors in a hospital setting during the pandemic to pursuing her dream of opening up a family-oriented restaurant in her hometown of Secane, Pennsylvania.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a culinary arts degree?
A: I’ve always been inspired to cook from my grandmother. Since I was a child I [had] been cooking alongside her for years before her passing in 2006 from breast cancer. I just remember as a little girl, she used to always take me to work with her. She worked at the Marriott near the Philadelphia Airport and I used to always sit on a couch and wait for her to be done with her shift. Sometimes she would take me back into the kitchen and show me some things; and that's how the magic began. Nowadays cooking is one of those things that I feel brings me closer to her. Everything cooking-wise came from her and she was literally the greatest host in our family and brought us all together every Sunday. Once she was gone, all of our family traditions came to an end.
Q: Can you tell me about the dream restaurant that you hope to establish in Secane out of college?
A: Well, for starters, I want to open a restaurant serving all the foods I enjoyed growing up. I also hope to salvage some recipes from my family that I can also incorporate into my restaurant after college. Cooking has always been in my family's background. I remember my grandmother telling me that her brother was also a chef. During his time, he was really famous for his 7UP cake that he had perfected. Although the family doesn’t really stick together as much as they should I hope to someday represent my family name in the restaurant business.
Q: How do you think your Drexel education will help prepare you to be part of the next generation of great restaurateurs?
A: One thing that I like about Drexel which I think is beneficial is how with the degree that I am perusing it offers a business minor. This will be beneficial for me because it will give me the skills, I need to be innovative and think critically. I can also take these skills and apply them to other ventures in the future as well.
Q: When you’re not studying or cooking, what do you do for fun? Are you involved in any extracurricular activities at Drexel?
A: I’m a workaholic. When I did the interview for the scholarship, they asked me what was one of the hardest things I do. It’s literally working a full-time job and trying to excel in my classes — it’s crazy. I work in food service and have done literally everything from busing tables in my first year of college to working in the dish room. [Then] I moved into health care because I felt like it was better pay and conditions and started off as a dietary aide. I filled in for the office doing paperwork and I cook in a nursing home. You can do a lot in the food industry.
Q: What was it like interfacing with Guy Fieri as part of this opportunity? Is he someone you look up to? Do you have any other role models in this industry?
A: I love Guy. I enjoy watching his grocery store show (“Guy’s Grocery Games”). It’s interesting and different because there isn't a lot of shows quite like it. I don’t really have a favorite chef, or TV personality, but I do look up to Bobby Flay. I find Flay’s backstory to be inspiring, considering that he dropped out of high school at 17 years old. After receiving his GED, he graduated from college and went on to be a great chef and restaurateur. His story has inspired me as I grappled with a few setbacks in my career. I am honored to be selected for the scholarship, but the interaction with Guy was a little scary! I was so nervous; it’s not every day that you meet a celebrity chef!
Q: Fieri and the National Restaurant Association have been supporting restaurant owners and workers throughout the pandemic. How do you feel the industry was affected by the pandemic, and how do you think it will be able to bounce back? Were you personally affected by this at all?
A: Well, not necessarily financially, just work-wise. It’s been a nightmare working throughout the pandemic. It didn’t really affect my tuition as much, just more so the workload. Everybody was quitting and people were scared. I worked at a hospital at the time, and I saw nurses break down and cry. This made me think, what’s my next move? But I stuck it out and I just tried to be as safe as possible. I washed my hands and wore my mask all the time.
Q: Do you feel that Drexel or any specific mentors have helped get you to where you are today?
A: I’m somewhat new to Drexel, but one professor that stuck out to me in food science was Rosemary Trout, [assistant clinical professor and program director of culinary arts & food science in the Food and Hospitality Management Department in the College of Nursing & Health Professions]. I felt like she was very caring, very kind, and her personality is just really welcoming. When taking one of her classes she always encouraged me.