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With Her Momís Inspiration, City Tech Student Wins Prestigious Award

“Having grown up in poverty in rural India, my mother never had the opportunity to get an education. But that didn’t discourage her from sending me to school and encouraging me to strive to be the very best I can be. It’s because of her that I have the courage to stand still in a blowing storm.”

So said Salima Moosabhai, expressing her gratitude for being chosen to receive the Patrick Clark Memorial Award from the James Beard Foundation. And it was her mother who was with Moosabhai on a day long ago when the New York City College of Technology (City Tech) student decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“When I was around five or six, a hotel was being built right across the street from where we lived in the slums of Mumbai (the desperately poor neighborhood made famous in the Oscar-winning film Slum Dog Millionaire),” Moosabhai explains. “It looked elegant and I asked my mother to take me there. She hesitantly did, but the doorman wouldn’t let us go inside. I started to cry and just at that moment, the hotel’s manager happened to pass by. He took us inside and personally showed us around.

“It was a transformative moment,” she continues. “Since that day, I’ve been inspired by his generosity and motivated to become a part of the hospitality industry — so I can change other poor kids’ lives just like that man changed mine.”

Moosabhai has a specific goal in mind after she earns a bachelor of technology degree in hospitality management from City Tech next June. “I want to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and become a hotel general manager, which would fulfill my mother’s hopes for me and my fondest dreams.”

She feels that the Patrick Clark Memorial Award, which she has now won two years in a row, will play an important part in helping her to achieve her goal; the benefit goes well beyond the monetary one, as Clark’s story has special meaning for her on many levels. He was a City Tech alumnus who achieved fame as executive chef of Tavern on the Green and died in 1998 at the age of 42. At the time, Warner LeRoy, the restaurant’s owner, said: “Pat was a great chef and an extraordinary human being. His spirit and inspiration lifted the lives of all who knew him.”

Although Clark was one of City Tech’s most famous alumni, he often came back to City Tech to do demonstrations and to show students what they could achieve if they persevered. In reporting on his death, Nation’s Restaurant News wrote “Clark was arguably the best-known, most accomplished and most influential Black chef in American Fine Dining.” It is little wonder that Moosabhai found inspiration and identification with the namesake of her scholarship.

A resident of Rego Park, Queens, since coming to the United States in 2002 at the age of 19, Moosabhai has already started giving back to her community. “I’m a ‘people’ person,” she says, describing the satisfaction she gets from volunteering in “Spoons Across America,” a not-for-profit organization whose members go into public schools to teach children healthy eating habits and the importance of family togetherness. Her charitable work also has included volunteering at the New York Blood Center and Hospice of New York and serving meals at local soup kitchens.

In addition, she has been active on campus. “I’ve been secretary of the Anna Nurse Club for two years. We invite top chefs in to do a workshop for students so that they can learn cooking skills from the masters,” she says. “I’m also vice president of the Food and Wine Club. Majoring in hospitality management at City Tech is the best decision I’ve ever made.”

The mission of the James Beard Foundation Scholarship program is to “help aspiring culinary students realize their dreams by supporting them on a path to success in the rewarding world of the hospitality industry.” Against formidable odds, today Salima Moosabhai is well on her way to achieving that goal.

10.16.09


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