Excellence in Teaching
Associate Professor of Food Service Management
Thompson School of Applied Science
Right: Charlie Caramihalis straddles his Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 outside the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound in Cape Neddick, Maine.
Born to be wild (about teaching)
Charlie Caramihalis still thinks of himself as a kid, 23 years after he began teaching culinary arts at the Thompson School. And, after all this time, he still reaches that point every summer when he can't wait for classes to start up again.
"In that way, I don't really feel like I've grown up," Caramihalis says. "I go off and do something for the summer and when Labor Day comes, that signals a new year for me and I look forward to going back to school. That to me is a sign I've found something I love."
That something springs from his lifelong passion for food. And when it comes to teaching the subject, his favorite moments are when he can join in and get his hands messy.
"I like to get right in and work with the kids. If you're going to be a good manager, you have to practice what you preach," Caramihalis says. "If that means you have to wash dishes because the dishwasher didn't show up, you wash dishes."
His summer job as seasonal manager of the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound in Maine gives plenty of opportunities to walk that talk. His motto? "Expect the unexpected. That's one of the key elements of survival in the hospitality business," Caramihalis tells his students.
"You have to be prepared for controlled bedlam," he says.
While his style may be laid back and easygoing, he tries to impart discipline. Students will say that means getting to work on time, but Caramihalis strives to make them understand it is much more than that. Discipline, he says, is a state of mind.
"I want them to see that it's everywhere. If they walk into a restaurant and everything is running smoothly, that's discipline," Caramihalis says.
Caramihalis learned discipline early on when, as a 14–year–old, he spent his days working alongside his fisherman father and spent his nights in the kitchen of a local restaurant–the same one where he now spends his summers.
"I got up at 4 a.m. and pitched bait," Caramihalis says. "We'd sell our catch to the Cape Neddick Lobster Pound. They were looking for someone to work at night and I wanted the job. I'd work all day then go to the restaurant and work the grill. I fell in love with it right away."
Caramihalis describes himself as someone who's comfortable in his skin. He thinks that is why he's good at what he does. It's a mindset he tries to impart to his students.
"I tell them to think hard about what in life is important to them besides a career," he says. "When they first graduate and get that great job, it's very exciting. But there are a million different types of jobs in our business. I want them to understand they can pick one that fits their lifestyle."
In 1994, Caramihalis was reminded that teaching, and the freedom it provides that working in the restaurant business did not, was the right lifestyle for him. That's when his brother, Christopher, one of his four brothers who had followed in their father's footsteps, was lost at sea.
"It makes you realize what's important in life," he says, listing coaching his son's high school wrestling team and being able to attend his daughter's dance recitals as top priorities. And then adding, "Not only do I love teaching but it allows me to be the person I want to be."