Zach Lorber lived the transient chef life before coming to State College. “My wife, Megan, grew up in State College and is a Penn State alum of the hospitality program. We met while both working at Bedford Springs Resort, fell in love, and knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I moved here in the winter of 2009 and Happy Valley has been home since. In just a few more years, this will be the longest I've lived anywhere and that makes me happy.”
Today, Lorber is the culinary arts instructor at the State College Area High School Career and Technical Center. It’s a change from a lifetime career in foodservice — and one he loves. “While working at Penn State I was invited to join the occupational advisory committee at State High and that led to my jump from full-time chef to full-time teacher. I love teaching. The hospitality industry taught me so much, coming up, and I want to help keep the industry vibrant and develop the next generation of professionals and leaders.”
He says that his career in hospitality has taken him all over the country. “I dove into the industry feet first and I've loved every bit of it. I've had a wide variety of experiences from helping open a professional football stadium to working on the farm at a Michelin starred restaurant to "slinging hash" at a 24-hour truck stop — the demand for leisure activities and delicious food is never ending. My diverse experiences set me up to become a teacher.”
In 2021, the State College Area High School Career and Technical Center culinary arts program transitioned from a four year program to a two year program, and added 2 levels of electives for students. It was a move that doubled enrollment as students showed strong enthusiasm for the program. “Not all of our students will go on to become professional chefs, but many will continue into another area of the hospitality industry,” Lorber said. “Every student will learn a ton of transferable skills and be able to care and cook for themselves and their families.”
This past year, students competed in the ProStart Invitation coordinated by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. Four student cooks and a team manager had a very short window of time to prepare, and only had one full run through before the competition, but Lorber said that they showed up like professionals, worked hard, worked clean, and placed fourth out of 13 teams. “They are already planning for the new school year and enjoying the thrill of competition and immense learning that comes from judges' critiques,” he said.
Lorber said that people are often surprised to learn that his students are training on a professional track, with extensive focus on career preparation and workforce readiness. Their kitchens have commercial equipment and upper level students wear full uniforms during class, “It's impressive and I'm fortunate to be a part of a very robust learning community,” he said.
“My goal is for my students to be good people who are going to make the world a better place,” Lorber added. “I want them to have the technical skills to do the work, but also have a thirst to always learn more, work hard, work clean, and lead by example. I want our program's reputation to help open doors, but the students must be ready to step through and make a difference.”