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Culinary Arts Brings Home Three Wins at Ohio ProStart Virtual Competition

April 27, 2021


The Parma City School District’s Career and Technical Education Programs offer unparalleled experiences and opportunities for our students to shine.

The Culinary Arts program is celebrating not one, not two, but three first-place finishes at the Ohio ProStart Virtual Competition.

Congratulations to seniors Alicia Golden, first-place appetizer, Zoey Massey, first-place burger, and Nina Nedljkovic, first-place entree!

“We are very excited and proud of all our students’ hard work and accomplishments over the past two school years,” expressed Chef Iann Johnson, one of the instructors of the Culinary Arts program. “To say that the pandemic changed how our program runs and looks would be a gross understatement. Our students could have very easily given up and just floated through their senior years, but instead, they attacked each obstacle that faced them and also took advantage of every opportunity to grow and learn. The group of seniors we currently have is one of the most hard-working and dedicated in recent memory. These three very talented young ladies epitomize this mindset, and I am so excited their hard work and dedication are being recognized. The three of them possess maturity and leadership qualities you very rarely see at the high school level. I am really excited to see where life takes them after graduation.”

Led by Johnson and Chef Instructor Christie Gibbons, this is the third year in a row the culinary program has won the Ohio Beef Council’s Burger Battle. In the other competitions, the program usually finishes in the top 3 schools across the state.

“Our program is so special because of the students we work with and the opportunities we can provide to them,” Johnson added. “It is always amazing to me how each year we have a new group of students enter our program, and after two years working with us, they leave completely different from how they started. They begin with very little to no hospitality and food service experience, and our program creates future leaders in the field. Also, many times they enter as shy and timid individuals who know nothing about their classmates but exit as confident young adults and they see their peers as almost family. The opportunity to work with these young adults each year is what is truly special to me.”

Read what Alicia, Zoey and Nina had to say about their recent performance at the Ohio ProStart Competition and their plans for the future below!

Alicia Golden: Best Appetizer

Q: Describe your appetizer. What inspired you to create this dish?

A: Our teachers created the dishes for us and helped us to perfect them through many hours and practice. We chose the components for my dish because they complemented each other very nicely and they used complex techniques. Some of the techniques include smoking a Roma tomato to create a butter sauce, using a mandolin to julienne carrots and chayote squash for pickling, breading fish using a wet hand/dry hand method, and knife skills. The sauce was a rich component that complemented the flaky crispy fish, the crunchy fresh corn succotash, and the bright pickled carrots and squash.

Q: How does it feel to earn this recognition?

A: Earning this recognition makes all the hard work worth it. I put my everything into this competition and was so devastated when it was canceled last year, so winning it now made the waiting worth it as well. I still cannot believe I won, and it is such an honor.

Q: Describe your passion for culinary. Why is this something you wanted to pursue?

A: Ever since I was about eleven years old, I have loved to cook. I started making dinner for my family as a way to help my mom out while she was working. I soon realized how much I loved it and began to expand my knowledge of food. Once I found out that high school offered a culinary arts program, I knew I needed to be a part of it. This program has given me so many opportunities and I am extremely grateful to have been a part of it.

Q:  What are your plans after high school? Any career goals/dreams for the future?

A: After high school, I plan to get an associate degree in culinary arts, and then move on to earn a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. I would love to be an executive chef one day in a high-end Italian restaurant and possibly have a restaurant of my own one day. I cannot wait to see where the future brings me, but I know I am going to be happy with any path I choose to go down in the culinary field.

Zoey Massey: Best Burger

Q: Describe your burger. What inspired you to create this dish?

A: My burger that was presented for the competition is the Forester Burger. This burger consists of a pan-seared beef patty, melted swiss cheese, balsamic onions, chicken fried shiitake mushrooms, baby arugula, and a creamy horseradish sauce on a toasted brioche bun. What led to the creation of this burger is the classic combination of flavors used with each component. All of the ingredients provide a balance of flavors as well as textures. We then named it the Forester Burger because of the green from the arugula leaves, as well as mushrooms that grow naturally in the wilderness. My awesome chef instructors helped with the creation of the Forester Burger and the tweaking of recipes along the way.

Q: How does it feel to earn this recognition?

A: Earning recognition for this is the best feeling because of all the hard work that has been put into this competition. Last school year in 2020 we were planning to go to the competition in person, but it sadly got canceled the day before we were planning to leave. The effect of the cancellation took a toll on me and fellow students who were going, leaving us to think that our hard work would not have the chance to be recognized. Winning this year's competition definitely will be something that I will never forget.

Q: Describe your passion for culinary. Why is this something you wanted to pursue?

A: Culinary arts is a very important part of life that many people may not realize. No matter where you go in the world, you have to eat. When you go on vacation to a different city or state one of the first things that people do is look around for restaurants they have never been to. I decided that I wanted to take culinary arts in the beginning of my eighth-grade year at Normandy. There is no real reason why I decided to join the program, it just felt like the right thing for me to do at the time. Culinary Arts has become a huge part of my life since joining the program, encouraging me to work in a family-owned restaurant which I look forward to every day I go in, no matter how difficult it gets. There is this special feeling when someone takes a bite of food that you have prepared for them and they enjoy it and start to smile.

Q: What are your plans after high school? Any career goals/dreams for the future? 

A: I will be attending Cuyahoga Community College in the fall but there is no career that I have my heart set on. I plan to work in different restaurants all through college to gain the experience of working in kitchens. A dream that I have is to open my own bakery one day when I become retired. Being in this program has gifted me with lifelong friendships, and I hope to reach out to them when creating the bakery so we can be in on it together.

Nina Nedeljkovic: Best Entrée

Q: Describe your entree. What inspired you to create this dish?

A: For my entree, I made a pan-seared ribeye cap with bacon, apple, and sweet potato hash, pickled shallots, and a smoked blue and microgreen salad dressed with a lemon dijon vinaigrette. This dish was actually the entree that we were supposed to bring to the competition last year before it got canceled because of COVID, so really it was created by last year's seniors and chefs. The reason we kept it for this year was because of the techniques it allowed me to use and because of the great flavors it has which pair really well together.

Q: How does it feel to earn this recognition?

A: I feel very honored to have won the culinary entree competition. After all of the hours we spent practicing last year and not getting to compete, it was very heartbreaking. It felt like we did it all for nothing. Once our chefs told us we would get the opportunity to bring these dishes back and compete this year, I was thrilled because it meant that all of that hard work might actually pay off. Finding out that I won was very exciting, it was great to share that honor with two of my very best friends and with my two chefs, of course! It just showed that all of our work and dedication was worth it and that there was sort of a weight lifted off of my shoulders from last year.

Q: Describe your passion for culinary. Why is this something you wanted to pursue?

A: My passion for culinary started when I was very young. I always loved being in the kitchen with my mom and helping her make whatever it was she was making. Cooking and baking are sort of stress relievers and also a way to express myself creatively. It is one of my greatest hobbies and just something I have always enjoyed doing, and something I always will enjoy. Once I heard about the culinary program, I was a little nervous about how rigorous it was going to be, but after being in it for the last two years, I wouldn't change a thing. It was so fun to learn and expand my knowledge and skills of something that I love doing.

Q: What are your plans after high school? Any career goals/dreams for the future?

A: I plan on attending Tri-C next fall for Culinary Arts as well as Veterinary Technology. Both of these careers are things that I love doing and I wouldn't be able to decide on one or another. I am excited to take Culinary classes over the next few years and learn many more skills and expand my knowledge and abilities. Even though I might not spend my entire future with a career in the culinary industry, I never plan to stop learning as much as I can about it, and just having that knowledge for myself and for at home. It is something that brings me so much happiness and is one of my favorite things to do, so I will always want to keep learning and practicing, even if it's not professionally.

Watch the students’ food demos below:

Alicia (Appetizer)

Nina (Entree)

Zoey (Burger)