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Fall Cohort’s Cook-Off: Innovating a Classic

Olivia Shaffett

On the last day of November, our Culinary Job Training (CJT) fall cohort marked the mid-point of their training program with a Cook-off — a favorite milestone for staff and students alike!    

The cohort is split into four teams for this staple culinary challenge. Each team must rely on the knife and life skills they have acquired over the past eight weeks to come together to cook their interpretation of the featured dish for a panel of judges. 

This time around, the challenge was to create a chili that impressed an expert panel of judges, including Michelin-starred Chef Matt Baker of Gravitas, Michele’s, and Baker’s Daughter; Executive Corporate Chef at Fabio Trabocchi Restaurant Group Alex Rosser; UNFI’s Vice President of Government & Public Affairs Autumn Price; LEVY’s Senior Director of Human Resources Demetria Kittles; and LEVY’s Senior Human Resources Manager Dwayne Nalty. 

“The students – they put their whole selves into these chilis today,” remarked Culinary Instructor and CJT alum Ablawa Ajavon before the challenge started. The hard-work, ingenuity, and passion of the students showed in each of the four dishes. 

With a wide range of interpretations, like a traditional Texan red bean chili and a Caribbean jerk chicken chili, our fall cohort brought both the heat and the creativity to the judges’ palettes.  

In the end, Team Fantastic Four won the day with their globally-inspired Triple Threat Chili, which blended spices from West Africa, Uganda, and Mexico to create a sweet, spicy treat for our judges and guests. The homemade cornbread was also a delightful touch! 

Nyenpu K., a member of the winning-team who is originally from Liberia noted, “For a long time, African restaurants were not common here – neither was African cooking. Recently, we have seen more and more African restaurants around the city. I’m so proud of how far we have come and excited to see where we are going next.” 

We are certainly excited to see where our fall cohort will shine next as they enter their internships and externships before rounding out the program in the new year. To celebrate this extraordinary class, we hope you will join us on January 6th at the Naval Heritage Memorial Center for their graduation.  

If you are interested in hiring one of these rising culinary starts, please contact our Workforce Development Specialist Aisha Ruhland.