CROWNPOINT, NM – The world’s largest chef’s association, the American Culinary Federation (ACF), inducted Navajo Technical University Culinary Arts director Robert Witte, CEC, CCA, into its distinguished American Academy of Chefs. The honor society represents the highest standards of professionalism with the organization, society, and industry.
Witte was nominated to the American Academy of Chefs by Oklahoma-based chefs Mark Cochran and Geni Thomas on the merit of work ethic and professionalism, and over fifteen years of dedication building Navajo Technical University’s culinary arts program.
“With the support of the administration, my proudest moment has been what I’ve done with this program,” explained Witte, who started at NTU in 1999. “Through SkillsUSA, through the medal winners, through the trainings. We’ve had people placed throughout the country, and they’re progressing with their careers. That makes me feel better more than anything. This is the cherry on top of my career.”
Prior to working with NTU, Witte was the owner and head chef of the infamous Chelles in Gallup, NM. It was while working at Chelles that Witte was first introduced to NTU’s president Dr. Elmer J. Guy. “He asked me if I ever thought about teaching,” recollected Witte, who was also recognized this year by the ACF as Chef of the Year for the state of New Mexico. “Deep inside I always wanted to teach.”
Witte eventually interviewed at NTU, and was immediately extended the culinary arts instructor position. At first the job presented many challenges in that it had three students and operated on a rough budget of around $50. It was also confined to a small kitchen for instruction space, which eventually became overcrowded when Witte quickly grew enrollment from three students to twenty-five.
With the need for more space, Witte worked diligently with Dr. Guy in securing state funds to construct a world-class Culinary Arts and Hospitality Building equipped with professional standard kitchen space, three hotel rooms, and an open space hospitality room for caterings. He was also granted the freedom to revise the program’s curriculum to align with ACF standards so one day the program could achieve certification. In 2012, Witte accomplished the goal and NTU has been the standard for culinary arts education throughout the state and region. Today, Witte’s program now has 157 students.
“We’re the only native American higher learning school that is accredited through the ACF,” explained Witte. “Everybody has really worked hard in getting this going. It’s worth it to me seeing the kids learn and do what they do. I have never seen such creativity in food as I have with these kids. I don’t know if it’s hereditary or what, but to me, it’s amazing. I’m really proud of our program.”
The honor caps off a three month period of achievement for NTU’s culinary arts program after instructor Brian Tatsukawa was recognized by the ACF as Culinary Instructor of the Year and student Lorena Geisbrecht was named Student Chef of the Year. Both NTU’s Culinary Arts and Professional Baking programs are accredited by the ACF.