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Madera Guides Students to Culinary Expertise

November 30, 2021 by Tori Stanek

culinary instructor Amy Madera poses with student at an outdoor culinary event

During her childhood, Amy Madera got an early introduction to the tourism industry over weekend stays at her friend’s family motel in Florida.

“My friend and I would take over a guest room, raid the vending machines and watch movies all night,” she said.

Madera, who would grow up to direct Central Wyoming College’s culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management programs, saw beyond the recreational aspect of these mini-vacations. 

“I thought it was a great way to raise a family while making a living serving vacationers,” she said. Madera attended Michigan State University, whose hospitality management program ranked in the nation’s top three. She graduated from MSU in 1995 and expanded her education through invaluable on-site resort opportunities.

“I was privileged to have two rotational internships,” she said. 

Madera first worked with her mentor, Norman Ross, at the Duncan Conference Center in Delray Beach, Florida. She landed a second internship in Egypt through her father-in-law’s company, Sonesta Resorts. Both opportunities prepared Madera to start her career in Chicago.

These experiences gave me the foundation and helped prepare me for my first job working at the world’s largest convention center, McCormick Place, where I disjointedly managed receptions and plated dinners for up to 12,000 guests. ”

Amy Madera, CWC

When Madera’s husband was promoted to the General Manager for Hilton in 2007, the couple and their two daughters moved to Jackson, Wyoming. Two years later, Madera applied and was hired as the hospitality director at Central Wyoming College. 

“I have been with CWC ever since,” she said. Madera was well suited for the job and said she enjoys providing students with some of the hands-on experiences that characterized her own education.

“Something I try to do every semester is to visit grocery stores and farmer’s markets with students so they can explore different types of ingredients and produce,” she said. “I take pride in connecting students with passionate employers for setting career paths and it makes me smile when I see them around Jackson at the various businesses.”

Said Jimenez, one of Madera’s students, began working at Hole Bowl in Jackson as a line cook after he graduated with a culinary arts degree in spring 2020. It was during his senior year of high school during a culinary team practice that he met Madera. Her advice helped determine his course of education. 

“She met with us and talked about the endless possibilities in the industry,” Jimenez said. “I decided that cooking is the field I'd love, so I went to CWC and had a meeting with Amy.”

Madera’s influence continued throughout the program.

“She pushed me to be a leader in the classroom, to strive at giving my all on every dish,” he said. “She helped me improve as a chef.”

Jair Jimenez, another student in Madera’s program, attributes his cooking talents to her guidance.

“Amy Madera is wonderful and supportive and she is always looking for the best achievements for us and finding a way for us to be successful,” he said. 

One of these successes is the culinary team’s Cooking with Community project, which allows students to experience cooking in a mobile unit. Madera and her team of culinary instructors and students hope to use this project to build relationships with tribal members interested in learning new skills while incorporating indigenous foods found on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  

Jair Jimenez said this project affords participants with unique opportunities that include using CWC’s mobile slaughter facility.

“Taking the kitchen and students directly to the farm, not only provides for farm to table cooking opportunities but provides hands-on learning of how farming techniques impact the quality of food prepared and served to customers,” he said.

Jair Jimenez’ co-collaborator, Oliver Chambers added that the extra mobility will help the group serve remote areas. 

“The mobile food truck will allow CWC culinary educators to instruct reservation members and students on essential culinary techniques and knowledge,” Chambers said. “The mobile kitchen will use farm-to-fork to support the local economy and teach healthy food practices to those in need.”

Also working on Cooking with Community is CWC student Stephanie Roche, who met Madera when she was looking into the college’s hospitality program in 2019.

“She was very thorough in explaining the programs and all possible options available for me,” Roche said. “Her experience and knowledge of the industry and the Jackson Hole community certainly made the decision easy for me.”

Though Roche began the program during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was impressed by Madera’s ability to help everyone adjust to remote learning. 

“The logistics of making the classes happen online or on-site was a total nightmare,” Roche said. “But Amy approached it with a positive and in a systematic way such that all the instructors' and students' needs were met. She was always available and ready to lend a helping hand either by phone, email, or even coming over to our houses to deliver ingredients.” 

Roche commended Madera for her ability to manage the needs of so many.

“I do not know how she is able to manage so many responsibilities and wear so many hats, but we are very lucky and grateful to have her as our instructor and director of the program,” she said.

When Madera isn’t serving students, there is evidence of her love for the tourism and culinary industries in her personal life.

“My husband and I are well-traveled and enjoy introducing our daughters to a variety of different cuisines,” she said. 

The family has experienced Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian, Asian, Spanish and Italian food, and Madera routinely hunts for new recipes. 

“When I have some quiet time, I research recipes from various websites and cookbooks for us to try. My current favorite go-to's for inspiration are halfbakedharvest.com and Cooks Illustrated,” she said. Though she has been all over the world, Madera views Jackson as an ideal home base.

“I am fortunate to be living in a beautiful community working in a dream job, happily married and raising two teenage daughters,” she said.