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Award Winning Culinary Studies

By Shashi DeHaan
Culinary Student

The Culinary Institute of Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) boasts award-winning faculty and students.  During summer 2012, Chef Christopher Cwierz, adjunct faculty in Baking and Pastry, competed in the International Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany, as a member of a United States regional team.  His team received the Bronze medal in a competition of 62 countries, ranking in the top 20 in the world. 

In a competition with five other EMCC students, Mashauna Jelavich, Culinary Studies student, received “Top Chef” honors from a diverse panel of judges, a $1000 scholarship, and her award winning entrée, Southwest Grilled Chicken, on the menu of Caballero Grill in Goodyear, Arizona.  Owners of Caballero Grill, Paul Fratella and Andrew Guerreio, have partnered with the Culinary Institute by offering internships and sponsored this competition and scholarship.

Mashauna Jelavich said, “Winning the Caballero scholarship has given me confidence in my growing culinary skills.”

Students interested in culinary arts can choose from multiple certificate, course, and degree options. EMCC’s Culinary Institute offers qualifying students opportunities for an Associate Degree in Applied Science, Culinary Studies, with 63 credits, which are fully transferrable to Northern Arizona University. The Culinary Institute also offers Certificates of Completion in Baking and Pastry, as well as Basic Culinary Studies for those who choose only to do a particular concentration. Each of the courses required in these certificates are required in the Culinary Studies degree. 

The Culinary Studies program offers a diverse course selection, including differentiated training in culinary theory, hospitality, and at least 500 hours of practical training in EMCC’s very own Regions Restaurant.  Most of the items produced in the kitchen are offered at a reasonable price in the restaurant. Patrons are seated by reservation only, which often have to be made weeks in advance.

Jelavich said, “Being part of menu collaboration for Regions Restaurant and executing those recipes to prepare for the guests was rewarding and definitely a highlight of many of my culinary classes.”

Tina Bort, a second semester culinary studies student, said, “A lot of other culinary institutes are not as affordable as Estrella Mountain’s program.”

The reason for getting a culinary degree is compelling. Research by the National Restaurant Association states that “By 2022, restaurants in Arizona are expected to employ 303,000 people, 16.4 percent job growth – 42,800 new jobs.”

Students choose the Culinary Institute for a variety of reasons, but they continue for the experience.  Isabel Lavander, a third-year student in the Culinary Studies program, said, “One reason I have stayed is because of the classroom environment.  We are together for long days. Chef Hill and Chef Griff joke around with you because they know you; you are not just a random student for eight weeks.”

Chef Steven Griffiths, Program Director of the Culinary Institute, says students in the culinary courses attend for various reasons, such as recent high school graduates who are in pursuit of a career or current food service workers who are looking to improve their skills and training.

“The food industry is a fast-paced, ever-expanding industry that takes a lot of perseverance and dedication to be successful.  The Culinary Studies program at EMCC is an excellent way to enter an occupation that focuses on food service and hospitality, providing the opportunity for West Valley students to pursue careers as professional chefs and food service managers,” said Griffiths.