Following a first place finish at the State Cook-Off Championship, the Joliet Junior College Culinary Arts Competition Team is preparing to represent Illinois at the regional competition this spring.
JJC faced off against College of DuPage in December for the right to move on. The team will now battle at least 12 other teams at the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) Regional Cook-Off Championship in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“The win at the state competition is always so exciting for myself, the students who compete and our program,” said Chef Paul Bringas, culinary associate professor and competition team coach.
The team is comprised of five students, four of whom specialize in a specific dish. The competition features a cooking and a skills challenge, in which each contributes to a four-course meal. The team was led by captain and entrée specialists Alexis Ramos. Liam O’Brien made the salad, Jacob Merz prepared the appetizer, Zach Zweig was the pastry specialist and Lloyd Wright served as the alternate. Wright’s task was to keep the team on track with their dishes during the timed challenge. Scoring is totaled by judges from both the team’s skills and cooking segments.
“The team worked extremely hard this semester,” said Ramos. “We all shared that great moment together which made it feel amazing knowing what we had just accomplished.”
Bringas, who has been coaching the Competition Team for six years, said this year’s unit formed back in August.
“There were no returning members from the past team, so it was very challenging in the beginning,” he said. “We practice between two and three times a week, after classes. Practices can last up to six to seven hours each, and the students make great sacrifices to be on the team at this level. They are also required to practice as much as possible on their own time as well.”
Chef Mike McGreal, culinary arts department chair, commended everyone involved for their dedication leading up to and during the competition.
“Chef Bringas and Chef Tim Bucci developed a menu that was very complex and required a great deal of work to master the advanced techniques. The students rose to the challenge, putting in about as many hours each week as they would have in a full time job. All of us in the department are very proud of the team and the devoted faculty who are committed to their growth and development as future industry leaders.”
As the team prepares for the March regionals, they hope to build upon strong JJC culinary showings in past competitions. They’ve frequently won gold at the state level. Last year’s team placed fourth at regionals. The year before, it earned a gold award, yet came up just half a point shy of advancing to nationals.
“The team and I plan to keep working hard and help each other improve our knife skills, cooking skills, sanitation, techniques, and our weakness to make sure we are ready to face all the great teams that will be competing with us at regionals,” said Ramos.
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