Sommelier Gives Valedictory
Growing up in Hays, KS, – population 20,000 – Theresa Evans treasured the time spent on her grandparents’ farm. Eating meals that came straight from the land to their table led to a career in food and wine and to becoming the 2011 valedictorian of the New York City College of Technology (City Tech).
Her first step was attending the Walt Disney World College Program in Orlando, Florida, for a semester-long paid internship and a certificate in basic food safety training. She then headed for New York City and the French Culinary Institute, where she earned a diploma in Culinary Arts.
“I knew I wanted a more formal, broader education,” says Evans, who now lives in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. “After researching many colleges, I chose City Tech. The college has professors who have extensive hospitality experience and a passion to educate the future leaders of our industry. I got the sense they really cared about their students. It was the only place where I knew I’d feel comfortable, at home.”
Evans, who receives a bachelor of technology degree in hospitality management, says, “My grandmother helped shape me and instill my love for food.” An only child whose father had died when she was 3, Evans adds, “My mother’s inner strength showed me how to overcome challenges by believing in myself.”
Since arriving in New York in 2005, she has worked at such well-known establishments as the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, Abigail Kirsch’s catering operations at Pier Sixty and The Lighthouse and, currently, as sommelier at Porter House New York at the Time Warner Center, where celebrity chef Michael Lomonaco (City Tech, 1984) is a managing partner.
Says Lomonaco: “Porter House New York is extremely proud and delighted that Theresa Evans’ hard work and great efforts are being recognized by City Tech. She is an ideal employee who has applied herself with dedication and focus in her work with Master Sommelier Roger Dagorn [an adjunct wine professor at City Tech]. Her knowledge of wines has grown tremendously and we have great faith that her career in hospitality will be one of terrific renown.”
Evans, who graduates with a grade point average of 3.988 out of a possible 4.0, says: “In life, you’re six people away from whatever you want. At City Tech, the degree of separation is even less. Doors opened for me. The faculty here is very supportive and will give you lots of guidance. Once you tell them what you want to become, they will help you every step of the way.”
Her goals are clear. “I can see myself having a small restaurant, using farm-to-table ingredients, where I can be creative with the dishes and find the hidden gems of wine.” She made the most of opportunities at City Tech, such as volunteering at hospitality-related events like the Société Culinaire Philanthropique Home Picnic. She also participated in the college’s study abroad programs, including the Thomas Ahrens International Study Abroad Program in Paris and Work Abroad Program in Alsace, Modul Hospitality Study in Vienna and CUNY’s APICIUS Italy Wine Culture Study Program in Florence.
In her last semester, she took five classes, held down three jobs and an internship. “I’m good at time management,” she explains. “Yes, the schedule was grueling, but because I have such a passion for food and wine, I prioritized my wants and needs. You learn to make sacrifices.”
Her perseverance paid off. In the past two years, she won seven scholarships, including those from Brooklyn Eats, the Food and Beverage Association of America’s Food and Beverage Scholarship Foundation and the American Institute of Wine and Food’s André and Simone Soltner Food Education Scholarship.
Arline Isaacson, a board officer of the Food and Beverage Scholarship Foundation Inc., says Evans “has already fulfilled her promise to make us proud of her. We are delighted to continue to support City Tech hospitality management students with scholarships that allow them to grow into rewarding careers in our industry.”
Evans is pursuing a higher level of sommelier certification (level II), through the Court of Master Sommeliers. She also plans to apply for master of business administration (MBA) programs so she can hone her entrepreneurial skills and better prepare for having her own restaurant. “I want my place to cater to everyone who appreciates good food and wine,” she says. “People mistakenly believe you have to spend a lot of money to eat well. I hope to prove otherwise.”
When Evans was chosen as valedictorian, she says, “I was overwhelmed, speechless; I could not believe it.” The message she wants to give her fellow graduates is to take every opportunity that comes their way. “I feel you have to live your life for what you want to do, not do the predictable. I left the familiar to go out into the world to pursue what I wanted to be. Find your passion and go for it.”