Alyssa Campbell: 'Why you do it'


Alyssa Campbell spent many hours of her childhood in the kitchen, awed by her grandmother’s ability to create a meal that nourished body and soul with seemingly simple ingredients.

But it wasn’t until she was utterly miserable that she thought she might like to make a career out of cooking.

“It just wasn’t something I considered until I was so unhappy with my job,” said Campbell, who is now an instructor in SUNY Adirondack’s Culinary Arts program. “‘What are the things I enjoy doing?,’ I remember thinking.”

While earning a bachelor’s degree in financial economics, Campbell was an intern at Lockheed and Martin in Baltimore.

“That was great for me,” she said. “But by the time I was graduating, they were laying off tons of people and the only opportunities they were offering were in the Midwest.”

After growing up in New Hampshire, studying in Maryland and regularly visiting her extended family in this area, that wasn’t a move she wanted to make. She instead found a job in finance with another company.

“After a couple of years, I was just miserable,” she remembered. “‘What am I doing, coming home from work miserable every day?,’ I thought. ‘You’re young, it’s not like you have to be stuck here.’”

So, Campbell enrolled in culinary school, and had an internship as part of her coursework. 

“That was a jumpstart,” she said, explaining how after graduating, she worked her way up the ranks at several different restaurants throughout the Washington, D.C., area.

After leaving the Michelin-star Masseria, she helped open a restaurant and get it off the ground. As anyone who has watched a reality cooking show on the Food Network knows, getting to that point of her career took a lot of hard work.

“I worked weekends, holidays, made a lot of personal sacrifices, and I was ready for a change,” Campbell said. “About a year after opening, I was looking for a change in scenery, just as I found out about the opportunity at SUNY Adirondack.”

Now she teaches Introduction to Basic Food Preparation, Intro to Baking Technique, Casual Dining, Math Applications for Food Industry, and serves as the front-of-house manager and culinary coordinator at Seasoned, SUNY Adirondack’s state-of-the-art restaurant. 

The diversity of her work — teaching knife skills, how to make stock, break down a chicken, cook an egg, act as host, server or bartender — keeps things interesting. 

“This is an exciting job; it’s definitely never boring,” she said. “There are always a handful of students in every class that kind of, in a good way, stop you in your tracks and remind you, ‘This is why you do it.’”