Two College of Lake County students majoring in hospitality and culinary management have accepted an invitation to cook at the annual James Beard Foundation Gala, a prestigious culinary event on Oct. 27 in New York City.
Jocelyne Leon-Flores and Elana Green will cook at an event titled “La Dolce Vita: Italy in the Sixties,” creating a five-course meal. Five hors d’oeuvres include shrimp cocktail and deep-fried meatball skewers with tomato sauce. Five dinner components range from chicken Galantine with Capriciosa salad to green peppercorn beef tenderloin with seasonal vegetables. In addition to preparing a pre-dessert of tiramisu, the students will create five dessert selections ranging from biscotti (Italian cookies) to a miniature Tuscan-style apple cake.
Both Leon-Flores and Green were invited by Chef Andrea Trapani, executive chef and director at Apicius International School of Hospitality, a culinary school located within Italy’s Florence University of the Arts. Leon-Flores and Green were among 17 CLC students who visited the university in May as part of CLC’s three-week field study course led by Chef Rob Wygant, chair of CLC’s hospitality and culinary management program.
Attracting dozens of five-star chefs, the Gala takes place at the James Beard House in lower Manhattan and is the “Academy Awards” for chefs, restaurants and the food industry, said Wygant. Attending the five-course dinner will be chefs from Italy and visiting administrators from Florence University of the Arts. Additionally, the students will cook for three private events in New York as a run-up to the Gala, which is open to the public.
Prior to the Gala, Green and Leon-Flores will leave in late September to train for three weeks at Florence University of the Arts, then fly to New York for the Gala.
“To see my students grow and develop their skills to this level is one of the biggest things for me professionally,” said Wygant, a Los Angeles native who has cooked for three Academy Awards banquets and once worked with Wolfgang Puck before joining CLC. “Joselyn and Elana have excellent knife skills and are always wanting to learn more. They will be cooking for all of the best chefs in the country, including Puck and David Burke.”
Trapani, explaining his decision to invite the CLC students, said, “Elana demonstrated technical abilities, great communication, speed in execution, ability to work under pressure and academic quality. She also showed great motivation. Joselyn participated in the baking and pastry course and showed great organization, problem-solving skills and dynamism during the execution of the recipes.”
In addition to the students, CLC’s hospitality and culinary management program has impressed Trapani. “Our Apicius International School of Hospitality and the College of Lake County have very similar methods of instruction,” he said. “CLC students are very well-trained, not only academically and technically but also in terms of proper mentality and behavior. This year I personally invited five CLC students to cook for the James Beard Foundation Gala, and that is a sign of the good impression I’ve had about your training. For this reason, our two institutions started a collaboration which is becoming very solid.”
Of the five CLC students selected, Leon-Flores and Green accepted the invitation, agreeing to pay for their own travel and lodging for the three-week training in Italy and the week-and-a-half in New York City.
“To be invited to cook for the James Beard Foundation Gala was emotional—I had to hold back tears,” said Green, a Mundelein resident who eventually would like to operate her own restaurant or catering company. “It was incredible experience to be in Italy, and it made me realize that I was put on this Earth to cook. That was an absolutely life-changing.”
Besides hosting guest-chef dinners, the New York-based James Beard Foundation administers the James Beard Awards, grants scholarships for culinary students, creates educational programs and addresses issues including diversity in culinary leadership. For details, visit www.jamesbeard.org.
About College of Lake County
College of Lake County is an innovative community college in Lake County, Ill. that transforms lives with its variety of accessible, quality education options. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, College of Lake County provides affordable options in a state-of-the-art setting close to home. A large student network, with small class sizes, provides advantages to our students on a career-related program or a path toward a transfer degree. We’re proud to serve the diverse needs of our community and student body. Connect to your future today at College of Lake County.
Photo: First row, from left: Jocelyne Leon-Flores and Elana Green, two hospitality and culinary management students at the College of Lake County, take a break during a May 2018 culinary trip to Florence, Italy. Leading the trip were, from left, Chefs William Vena and Rob Wygant, two CLC professors.