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Class 129 Cook-Off: Creativity and Calculated Risks Pay Off

Few culinary dishes seem more straightforward than chowder. A dish traditionally made from cream and potatoes, chowder leaves little room to the imagination, or so we thought. Culinary Job Training (CJT) Class 129 challenged everyone’s assumptions with four fresh, innovative takes on chowder at last week’s Cook-Off challenge.  

The Cook-Off is the pinnacle moment half-way through the CJT program when the students get to demonstrate both their knife and life skills by working in teams to create, cook, and display their own dish to a panel of judges. “This is the first time the students get to work in a group. This is the ultimate challenge for them at this point in the program,” explained DCCK CEO Mike Curtin to our distinguished panel of judges, that included Audra Pettus, Skypoint Financial; DCCK board member Leticia Proctor, Donohoe Hospitality; Executive Chef Steve Lipscombe, City Experiences; Cassandra Cassamajor, Skypoint Financial; and CJT Class 114 alumna Someko Hanson, owner of Fellowship Over Food. 

Team ABC (Attitude Behavior Changers) edged out the rest of the teams with one of the most creative dishes in recent Cook-Off history. Their inspired “Pizza Chowder” not only incorporated real pizza dough dumplings, sliced pepperoni, and a thick top layer of mozzarella cheese, but it even looked like pizza in the pot!  

“When we first received the challenge, we thought about cooking the traditional stuff, like lobster or seafood,” remarked Team ABC member Andre B. “But I knew we needed to do something unexpected. That’s when it clicked – pizza chowder. It’s creative. It’s different.”  

Team ABC’s winning Pizza Chowder

Pizza chowder certainly is different, not to mention risky. Team ABC also attributes their win to their commitment to trust in themselves and each other, skills they and the rest of their classmates have learned over the past eight weeks, that will carry all of Class 129 to future success.  

Competitions like Cook-Off can lead to heavy, hurt feelings, but once the results were announced, the mood in the room reflected more celebration and support than disappointment or anger. “Being with this class is like being with a family. They have gained my trust and allowed me to feel comfortable. This experience will help me in the long run when I build other relationships,” said CJT student Marc S. 

This sense of camaraderie in the face of competition left our judges curious and inspired by the CJT process. When asked by the judges how they handled disputes and disagreements during the challenge, Orion L. from Team Red Eye noted that conflict resolution is the unseen effect of CJT self-empowerment classes. “That’s the beauty of the program,” he remarked. “It is not a matter of if there is going to be a conflict, but a matter of the lessons we learn in our life skills classes giving us the necessary tools to handle that conflict.” 

Cook-Off judge and DCCK board member Leticia Proctor closed the day with a stirring reminder, “There’s not a lot of good in the world based on the news. How do you live in a world you don’t like all the time? But today, I came here, and I am listening to you, and I am grateful. I see the good here and it reminds me that there is a lot of good in this world, too. I can feel your energy, and I know you will continue to make a difference, so keep going.”  

We know Class 129 will continue to make that difference and do good in our community as they round out the final weeks of the program and head into their internship and externship opportunities before joining past CJT alumni in the hospitality sector. If you are interested in hiring one of these creative and hard-working visionaries, please contact Workforce Development Specialist Aisha Ruhland.