Welcome! New faces join our campus
Omar Laaraj, Culinary Arts
Chef Omar Laaraj has one philosophy when it comes to food.
“If you make it yourself, you will love it even more.”
It’s an attitude the new Culinary Arts teacher hopes to instill in his students.
For the past five years he has been working as a cook manager with Southern Westchester BOCES’ Center for Special Services. He has close to 30 years of culinary experience, including owning and operating his own restaurants and serving as an executive chef in others.
“It allowed me the time I needed after school, weekends and holidays,” to spend time with his family rather than working around the clock in the restaurant industry, he said, of joining BOCES.
Chef Laaraj said being a cook manager was wonderful, but he felt he had more to offer and wanted to share with aspiring chefs his own passion for cooking.
“This was a great opportunity,” coming to the Careers Center and teaching Culinary Arts, following the retirement of Chef Peter Tomaskovic, he said.
“All the knowledge I had accumulated in the last 30 years, it was an opportunity to share that with young, talented chefs,” he continued.
Among the many things he loved about his work is putting together a dish, serving it and getting an immediate reaction from the person eating it.
“You learn in this business to be criticized, it’s not always a bad thing,” he said.
Chef Laaraj is originally from Morocco and naturally he began his culinary career cooking Mediterranean dishes. He soon added Asian cuisine to his repertoire as a head chef at an Asian fusion restaurant in Greenwich, CT. He continued his culinary travels, so to speak, by learning Irish techniques and dishes and eventually returned to his Mediterranean roots but not before learning Greek styles of cooking and cuisine.
In 1990 he bought a café in Mamaroneck, The Good Life Café, which he described as “a little Mediterranean place,” which received a great review from Gannett.
“From being in the restaurant and opening a few places as a head chef or executive chef, you are a teacher in a different way, especially if you are doing a new cuisine,” said Chef Laaraj said, explaining how his experience will assist with his new role as teacher.
Geri Healy, Transition Specialist
For her entire professional career Geri Healy has been helping special needs individuals and their families navigate the transition from young adult into adulthood and guiding them toward services that would serve them best. She is now at Southern Westchester BOCES helping special needs students as they make a similar transition.
“My background was really thoroughly knowing the agencies and what makes students eligible for those services,” she said. “Now it’s more vocationally driven.”
Most recently Ms. Healy, who has a Master’s in school counseling from Fordham University, worked at Green Chimneys in Brewster in the organization’s day program. Green Chimneys serves children with special needs through animal-assisted therapy and educational activities.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and always worked for non-profits, state and local agencies,” she continued. “It’s always been based on helping families and students. It seems to be something I feel comfortable doing. I enjoy helping students and their families feel empowered.”
A large part of her assistance consists of helping individuals and their families advocate for themselves, something she seeks to do with the students at BOCES.
“I am here to share the information, empower them and help them move forward,” she said.
Often families can feel overwhelmed and not know where or how to begin the process to help their loved one.
“A little guidance and support are definitely needed to help show them the right direction,” she said.