Roshara Sander’s mother worked three jobs to provide for her family, all of them in foodservice. Her daughter took notice of her mother’s work ethic and love of the work she did. Roshara wanted to emulate her mother and made a promise to herself to work hard, push forward, and follow her dreams.
“Mom was always in the kitchen, even on her off hours. She just loves to cook,” laughs Roshara, a former sergeant of the U.S. Army and assistant dining service director at the Lutheran Home of Southbury, a Unidine facility. “Cooking was Mom’s calm. I wanted that.” The pair spent many happy hours in the kitchen together and Roshara’s love for food blossomed.
At the age of 15, Roshara got a job working the grill at a soul food restaurant called Bert’s Place under the watchful guidance of Mrs. Bert who also taught Roshara’s mother to cook.
Roshara was accepted to the Bullard-Havens Technical High School where her culinary teacher and mentor, Chef Craig Voytek ’76 said, “I think you have what it takes to pursue a career as a chef. You should go to the CIA because they know how to make successful chefs.” So she applied and was accepted. “I think it was Chef Voytek’s letter of recommendation that got me in,” she says.
However, there was one hurdle that was too big to overcome: the cost of tuition. Roshara’s dream of attending the CIA seemed to be slipping away. Undeterred, Roshara found another way; by first proudly serving her country in the United State Army.
Deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the 4th Engineer Battalion, Roshara served as an automated logistical specialist responsible for supervising warehouse functions to maintain equipment records and parts. When Roshara returned stateside she joined the 395th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion was allowed to cross trained as a food supply specialist. “I was passionate about cooking,” Roshara says, “and I prepared meals for 500 soldiers, three times a day, in shifts around the clock. If it weren’t for the GI Bill I wouldn’t have gone to the CIA or any college for that matter. It was a blessing and it made my dream a reality.”
“About a year before my discharge I put in the paperwork for the GI Bill because it takes time for it to process,” explains Roshara. “Ironically, a few months later, the CIA actually contacted me. Lauren, my admission representative, helped me reapply for admission, get all my papers in order for financial aid, and contacted the Veterans Administration to help with my GI Bill paperwork. The CIA just took over and it was easy!”
Roshara’s transition from soldier to student was a relatively seamless. “Every chef I met became a mentor and I’m still in contact with many of my instructors,” says Roshara. Active in student life on campus, Roshara joined the Culinarians Against Cancer club shortly after its inception and, as a member of the graduating class of July 24, 2014, was instrumental in bringing the American Cancer Society Relay for Life to Hyde Park—the first time the race was hosted by the CIA.
There was no question of Roshara going on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in culinary management. “I felt if I stopped at the associate degree, I wouldn’t continue to grow. And with the bachelor’s degree I’m more marketable in the foodservice industry.” As a senior, Roshara and her classmates designed a capstone culinary event that included choosing a theme, menu development, purchasing food, management delegation, and were responsible for marketing and selling tickets for the festivities. The 1920s themed event sold out and proceeds from the evening benefited the American Cancer Society.
“At the CIA, I learned how to be a professional leader and acquired the necessary skill of networking with the help of the Career Services department and job fairs on campus,” Roshara says. “In this industry, networking is everything. Every step of my career has been the result of networking and, with an alumni of 47,000, I’m part of an elite group that is worldwide.”
After graduation Roshara carefully plotted a course of personal and professional growth. “The Army taught me to be fearless,” says Roshara. Her externship at the Union League Café in New Haven, CT exposed her to traditional French cuisine. At Maplewood at Strawberry Hill, a senior living community, Roshara learned how to be a manager. “I was part of the internship program and I worked for free for one year,” she explains. “The executive chef was a longtime friend of my mother’s. He taught me how to be an executive chef: time management, personnel issues, ordering, delegation, and the importance of proper paperwork. The Financial Accounting and Human Resource classes at the CIA were vital to my career. They teach you how to deal with budgets and staffing.”
Her toughest assignment was the Lutheran Home of Southbury in Southbury, CT. A three-level senior living facility, the home specializes in Alzheimer’s and Dementia care, rehabilitation, and an active senior community of individual homes. “It was a difficult account and Unidine hired me to improve the customer service relationships and food service program,” recalls Roshara. “We learned about hospitality at the CIA and I stressed the importance of customer relations to the staff. Couple that with the fact that I’m a people person and things slowly got better for everyone. I love my clients and my staff is great and supportive.”
Roshara’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. She holds Campaign Medals from Iraq and Afghanistan, a Navy/Marine Achievement Medal, and she was the December 2014 Chef of the Month for Chef Works, an international foodservice uniform company. Roshara was sponsored by Remy Martin Cognac Company and inducted into the Circle of Centaurs mentorship program. Her mentor is Centaur Jessamyn Rodriquez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen. The two chefs are working on Roshara’s quest to bring high quality foods to cancer patients.
“If I hadn’t attended the CIA, I would have been just a talented cook. But my degree allows me to dream bigger and now I have the career I’ve always wanted,” Roshara says. Her hard work and determination has certainly paid off and her mother couldn’t be prouder.