This Month's Spotlight Alumnus: Aron Tomlinson
It’s funny how experiences in our early life have a way of shaping the future, even without knowing it! This was the case for Aron Tomlinson, who grew up in the Waits River area, and is now the Curriculum Coordinator at Hartford Area Career and Technical Center in White River Junction, Vermont. For Aron, his love of cooking has lead him to where he is now, something that started at an early age!
It was a natural thing to be around great food and great cooking, according to Aron. He attributes this experience to his mom’s love of cooking that he expierienced growing up. There was always something wonderful being prepared; the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven, loaves rising in a warm kitchen, and the joy of his mom’s recipes making others happy! Her French-Canadian background gave her all sorts of family recipes to be shared and passed down from generation to generation. Another huge, early influence in Aron’s interest in food preparation was his grandfather on his dad’s side. Grandfather Tomlinson loved to cook and, in particular, loved to grill outdoors on a variety of grills, rotisseries, and contraptions that he built or fabricated from used motors, metal objects, discarded pieces that he “tinkered” into successful operation for cooking and smoking. It was probably because of these influences that Aron would always answer that he wanted to become a chef when he grew up, instead of the usual “firefighter”, “police officer” or “astronaut” that people sometimes hear when asking that question of young children!
Aron’s enthusiasm to become a chef didn’t diminish over the years, so when his Oxbow High School guidance counselor suggested he might enjoy attending the Culinary Class at River Bend for a short period during his sophomore year, a year ahead of most students, he jumped at the chance to be removed from a study hall that he didn’t really need, and focus some energy at the Tech Center. That is where he met Mike Shover, Culinary Arts Instructor for many years at River Bend. It was at this moment that Mike became a life-long mentor for Aron, something that he cherishes very much. It was in this career and technical center setting that Aron started to see the connections of culinary skills, the art of food preparation, the need for fast paced work, and the importance of discipline in the food business. Mike Shover’s military background was also an important piece of Aron’s approach to the profession from a “no nonsense” point of view! Aron returned to the Culinary program for the next two years and really found a solid foundation in the food industry. In addition, he became very interested in the whole field of “food science”. He began to explore his post-secondary options and graduated from Oxbow High School and the Culinary Arts Program in 1998.
While at River Bend, Aron visited a number of culinary programs as part of his class, but settled on the program at New Hampshire Technical College in Berlin, New Hampshire. The college had a strong culinary program and they offered Aron an opportunity to play basketball, something that did not exist at the other culinary schools at the time. Aron’s culinary skills continued to grow with this education, including an internship at the Lake Morey Inn. Along the way, Aron connected with faculty at the college who, to this day, still provide advice and guidance when needed.
After graduation, Aron was selected to work at The Balsams, in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire; an incredibly professional and prestigious resort, known world-wide. This environment was fast-paced, demanding, and full of wonderful learning opportunities. After two seasons at The Balsams, Aron was looking for something that was less seasonal and more full-time. Despite being asked to stay on at the resort, he decided to move his talents to the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction as Sous Chef at Cashie’s Restaurant. While at Cashie’s, Aron was approached to be part of the start-up food program at Kendal in Hanover. This opportunity gave him more regular hours and a very different sets of experiences, all positive! With his more regular hours, Aron started coaching at Oxbow and Thetford Academy, both basketball and baseball. He found that he loved the coaching and working with the students. Continuing his experience with teaching, working with students and foods, he was asked to run the food service program at the Ray School in Hanover, which provided Aron lots of ways to introduce local food sources to school children in healthy, good-tasting meals. He also found that he really enjoyed the interaction with the teachers and students.
Aron’s experience and responsibilities once again expanded when he became the Food Production Manager for a large Pennsylvania based food service company servicing Alice Peck Day Hospital, Harvest Hill, and a separate catering business. This move was just before what Aron calls his “absolute best decision in the food service industry” by becoming the operations manager of prepared food at the Lebanon Coop. This position morphed into a team that developed the off-site kitchen for all of the Coop stores in Wilder, Vermont.
Aron’s nine plus years of experience in the Coop organization allowed him to become affiliated with the American Culinary Foundation, and become certified as an Executive Chef with this prestigious organization. His work with the Coop also offered him opportunities to do some teaching of others, and to become connected with the culinary program at the Hartford Area Career and Technical Center (HACTC). This affiliation provided students with cooperative education experiences with Aron at the Coop, and allowed him to really see that he enjoyed teaching others about the food industry. The Culinary program at HACTC was also affiliated with the American Culinary Foundation, and when the long-standing instructor decided to retire in 2007, Aron was hired by the school to take over the program.
Becoming part of the school meant that Aron was once again back at school himself to earn the various certifications and educational qualifications to be a teacher in Vermont. He completed the “Mentoring Program” for people new to career and technical education in Vermont, as well as completing his Bachelor’s Degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Hospitality and Restaurant Management. Not stopping there, Aron has gone on to complete the certification process by Peer Review in Work-Based Learning from Castleton University.
When an opening at HACTC for a school “Curriculum Coordinator” occurred, Aron gave considerable thought to this new opportunity. This change would mean that Aron would be leaving his beloved kitchen, yet, at the same time, he would have a chance to assist and guide many more students, and work in a positive way with all of the teachers at the Center. Aron was chosen for the position and will complete his Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction in May 2019, with this advanced degree from Southern New Hampshire University. In this new role, he is able to combine so many of his talents and skills! He knows the names of every student in the school! He works with students in every program, every day. He works with schools that send students to HACTC, as well as parents, community members, and future students. He coaches teachers. He encourages students. He advocates for opportunities for all students, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, just as he would as he would if he were preparing a fine recipe from scratch, with care, with the right ingredients, with love, with a sense of humor, and abounding energy! Congratulations Aron! River Bend Career and Technical Center “Salutes” you for all that you do!