Wilfred Beriau knows how to cook. He also knows how to teach people to cook.

On April 8, Beriau, a Gray resident, local certified executive chef, certified culinary educator, and member of the American Academy of Chefs, of Gray, received the 2008 American Culinary Federation Inc. Northeast Region Chef Educator of the Year award.

Beriau, a professor and department chairman of culinary arts at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, was honored as an active culinary educator whose knowledge, skills and expertise have given culinary students leadership and guidance for the future.

As this year’s Northeast Region recipient, Beriau will compete for the national title against the winners of three other regions at the 2008 ACF national convention in Las Vegas, July 14-17.

Beriau has more than 35 years of experience in the culinary industry as a chef, teacher and active member of ACF Casco Bay Culinary Association of Portland. He began working as chef and manager at Bill’s Place in Eastham, Mass. in 1970 and has since held various positions in regional restaurants, from sous chef to chef de cuisine at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H., to executive chef at the Oar House Restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H.

He is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and holds a master’s degree from the University of Southern Maine.

As he prepares for the national convention, Beriau talked about his achievement, how he became interested in the culinary arts and what important lessons he passes on to all his students at SMCC.

Q: Were you surprised to hear you had won the Northeast Region Chef Educator of the Year Award?

A: Yes, I was very surprised and very pleased. There were a lot of other fine educators that were nominated for this award as well. I submitted information like how long I’ve been teaching, what I teach, some of my teaching philosophies and past awards I’ve won once I’d found out I’d been nominated.

Q: How will the American Culinary Federation decide on a national winner at the convention in July?

A: The three other regional winners and I will go in front of the six judges and prepare a lamb dish along with anything else I would prepare with it, while explaining how it’s done and the preparations needed for it.

Q: What inspired you to become a chef and teach the culinary arts to college students?

A: I always really liked good food. My mother was the best cook in the neighborhood growing up, and I always enjoyed cooking with the Boy Scout troop I was involved in. In 1969, my grandfather asked me to work at his restaurant, Bill’s Place in Eastham, Mass., and eventually I took over and ended up running it. I’ve never looked back since.

Q: What classes do you teach at SMCC?

A: I teach Food Preparation 2 and Dining Room Management. Food Preparation 2 is mostly learning about center of the plate food and the stocks and sauces that go along with it. Dining Room Management includes waiting on tables, bussing tables, meeting and greeting guests. All the culinary students here rotate in and out of the dining room here waiting on customers for eight weeks.

Q: What foods and spices do you like to work with most and why?

A: I’d be crazy not to say anything with fish. The Northeast has some of the finest fish in the world. People come to Maine to eat fresh fish. As for spices, each spice really fits the preparation method. I like to prepare fish with gentle herbs though, like marjoram, thyme or sage, nothing too overpowering.

Q: Does teaching cooking also involve teaching students how to work in a crowded kitchen environment?

A: Absolutely. All of us at the school try to prepare students for real industry experiences. The restaurant business is very fast-paced, very intense business, and we try to get this across to our students. They also can experience externships where they work with different chefs in a real restaurant setting.

Q: What do you think about the restaurant scene in Portland?

A: I think it’s one of the best restaurant scenes in the United States. I’ve traveled a lot, both in and out of the country, and some of the restaurants here don’t have to take a backseat to anyone. They have nice ambiances and well-prepared food. I love to go out to eat in Portland. I like to be surprised here.

Gray resident Paul Beriau, a chef and teacher at SMCC was named

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