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CPCE Spotlight: Roderick Westmaas, CPCE

Our CPCE Spotlight is where professionals share their motivation behind earning the Certified Professional in Catering and Events (CPCE). This month we are featuring Roderick Westmaas, CPCE, Hospitality Manager for Westminster City Council / Unity Works in London, England, UK.

If you are interested in being featured, please contact cpce@nace.net.

Moving to the UK in 2007 from Miami, I knew that I would be faced with a period of adjustment having spent my entire catering career in the United States (California and Florida). Without NACE, I would not have enjoyed the steady career progression that I did. From a Food and Beverage Trainee at a leading Miami hotel to the Director of Catering at the historic Burbank, California landmark, The Castaway, and the picturesque Rusty Pelican in Miami, I had a full and productive career path.

I embraced this ever-evolving profession at every level. The annual NACE conferences, the monthly chapter meetings, the countless friends and colleagues collectively made me proud of my chosen profession, with a desire to pass on this passion and knowledge to others entering the industry. Now, living in London and working as a Hospitality Manager, I have had the pleasure of planning and executing some spectacular events, often catering to British Royalty, heads of state, prominent politicians, sports personalities, and TV celebrities. A whole new paradigm existed, yet the basic principles remain the same: “take care of the customer.”

I currently work in one of the wealthiest districts in the UK for the City of Westminster. The property overlooks her Majesty the Queen’s London residence, Buckingham Palace, and is a stone’s throw away from the British Houses of Parliament. Unity Works, the company for whom I work, is a specialist organisation supporting and hiring people with learning disabilities to gain skills, achieve qualifications, and secure jobs, so they can reach their full potential. Some of their challenges include autism, epilepsy, and sight impairment. Seeing these young adults defy their individual situations and become part of the hospitality industry is extremely fulfilling. It opened my eyes to this often-neglected workforce.

COVID-19 presented us in London with a huge dilemma – what to do with the many homeless “rough sleepers” throughout London? The decision was made by the local government to house them in vacant hostels and hotels. The feeding would be our responsibility. Consequently, a deal was made to supply approximately 1000 meals a day (breakfasts and dinners), seven days a week. This took my catering experience to a whole new level.

Being one of the first recipients of CPCE, I am proud to have been part of the team that took the previous NACE qualification (CCE) to this new and more prestigious level in 1994. Those initials on my resume throughout my professional life made me stand out as someone who took his profession seriously. At an interview for a major catering position in California I was once told, “it appears that you are not just looking for a paycheck, you are looking to carve a future for yourself and hopefully others. I would like you to pass on your knowledge and make them want to want your job!” After many years with Specialty Restaurants, I am proud of my past accomplishments and those that I trained.

There is one occasion that sticks out in my mind when all of my NACE/CPCE learning came into play. I was working on the island of Key Biscayne, outside of Miami at a popular ocean view property, the Rusty Pelican, which catered an average of 300 weddings a year. A major hurricane one was on the path to completely plunging the island into darkness. At 10 am on the morning of the hurricane, electricity was cut to the entire island. A 250-person wedding was in jeopardy of being canceled. To say to a bride, with whom I worked closely for a full year and a half, “your wedding cannot take place,” was not an option I was willing to contemplate.  As a CPCE recipient, I was given a thorough understanding of off-site catering and the use of generators. A lightbulb went off in my head when I remembered that, at a past NACE meeting, a hotel on the island had a generator that was specifically used in the event of power failure. A phone call to a fellow NACE member and colleague at that property “sealed the deal.” The Sonesta Beach Resort had space and declared: “We will gladly take care of your bride. Bring your food, staff, drinks and we’ll do the rest.” The hotel did us and the wedding party proud. That is a day I will never forget.

Regrettably, my days of large social events have come to an end. I work solely on weekdays. Here in London, I am developing a new career path. Latching onto my love for history and research, I am hosting established walking tours of London where I tell little known stories pertaining to slavery and the colonial connections between the United Kingdom and Guyana (the country of my birth) and the wider Caribbean. Additionally, my wife and I established a not-for-profit initiative (Guyana SPEAKS) bringing together members of the large Guyanese diaspora in London once a month to network and listen to speakers on specific subjects that relate to this South American nation.

Relating to my current passion, I was privileged to have participated in the editing and writing of a publication entitled, Memory, Migration and (De)Colonisation in the Caribbean and Beyond which deals with, among other things, the many challenges that confronted the migrant population of Great Britain.

Finally, the murder of George Floyd lit a fuse that I believe will continue burning throughout the world. This flame cannot be put out. Change will embrace every sector of society. In particular, workplaces and commerce, announcements on social media, and a splattering of events with Black Lives Matter on the invitation will no longer be enough. Specific and measurable actions need to be taken. Looking for an example of concise action within the hospitality industry led me to The Peebles Corporation. There you have a company that is owned and operated by one of the nation’s most successful minority entrepreneurs, Don Peebles. His company’s tagline is “Affirmative Development.” Placing an emphasis on education and investing in minority communities, Peebles Corp founded AOHT– Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. Today, it comprises three separate academies incorporated into high schools throughout the district whose students are 92% minority.

The days of actionless platitudes with regard to the Black and minority ethnic communities are over. I believe NACE has to become the change it wants to see.

NACE positions held (1990-2005)

– CPCE Emeritus (awarded 1994)

– (Past) National 2nd Vice President, Former President, Foundation of NACE

– NACE Historian, Chapter(s) President, Inland Empire (California) and South Florida

– National Presidential candidate (1995) – Lost to Shelley Pedersen

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Crystal Irwin

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