Seven highly motivated, professional and committed culinary students stood out from applicants for this year’s Les Dames d’Escoffier Scholarship Program. Applications were received from all the Chicago Culinary programs– Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago (formerly Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago), The French Pastry School, Kendall College, Lexington College, Robert Morris University–Institute of Culinary Arts, The Illinois Institute of Art, Washburne Culinary Institute – and a total $25,000 in scholarships were awarded.
Please meet the 2011 Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago scholarship winners:
Ashley Marie DiBella, a Bachelors of Hospitality Management student at Robert Morris University, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship. This 20-year-old is extremely driven, taking both a train and bus to get to school, then working 30-40 hours a week for Il Poggiolo Italian Ristorante in Hinsdale. She already has earned three restaurant certificates. Ashley Marie and her 3 younger siblings were raised by her father and Sicilian grandmother, from whom, she says, “I learned everything I know about cooking … it is like cooking authentic Italian food is now in my bloodstream.” Ashley also credits her “Nonna” for her chosen career path. “She has always told me to pursue a culinary degree and do things that she never had the opportunity to do. I know I’ll make her proud some day.”
Washburne Culinary Institute student Kristine White is the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship. This single mom of 2 teenage boys describes herself as “a giver,” and her community activities prove it. In addition to being a full-time student, working part-time and volunteering at her sons’ schools, Kristine helps out at homeless shelters and Ronald McDonald house and mentors young girls at her church. She is the first in her family to go to college and wants to set an example for her sons, who she describes as being the biggest influence on pursuing her culinary career, “They are so proud of me, and they enjoy telling others ‘My mom is studying to be a chef!’ …The joy in their eyes keeps me pushing forward.” During her interview, Kristine complimented Les Dames mentorship program, commenting, on the “sisterhood, reaching down and pulling others up.”
Our third $5,000 scholarship winner, Morgan O’Brien, a student at Kendall College, is a former high school Skills USA 3rd Place winner for Baking and Pastry Arts. Her college career follows four years of high school culinary programs and working after school in numerous culinary pursuits. School and working as a line cook 5 days a week to pay for tuition leaves little time for other activities. “Nothing excites me more than thinking about my future as a chef…Kendall College has opened up the door of opportunity for me. I love going to school every day and learning about what I love to do.” Morgan lives with her mom, a single parent, and three siblings.
Alice Park, recipient of a $2,500 scholarship, is a student at The French Pastry School. This former paralegal left the profession to follow her heart after her father died unexpectedly. A single day of shadowing a pastry chef at a local restaurant morphed into a full month of internship that was, “so engaging …. I had never felt so present doing anything as I did preparing food in the hustle and bustle of a professional kitchen.” Since that time, Alice has amassed 3 years hands-on baking and pastry experience and has been offered management jobs, but before moving in that direction preferred to have formal culinary training. This Californian volunteers for Meals on Wheels and at food-related fundraisers for Cancer Research.
Erin Silva Winston was awarded a $2,500 scholarship towards her studies at The French Pastry School. Some of you may recognize Erin from Jacky’s on Prairie, where she serves as Front of the House Manager and Wine Director, and where her husband is executive chef, or prior to that, as a server and barista at Blind Faith Café. After studying liberal arts and later premedical studies, when it came time to choose between a career in the culinary field or one in medicine, she recalled her mother’s advice that “…my work be an extension of me, rather than something I could not relate to.” Until 5th Grade, Erin grew up northwest of Paris, France, and as a child wanted to become a pastry chef. The scholarship will allow Erin to cut back her hours at Jacky’s and also assist with daycare expenses for her child while she is going to school.
Jia (Emma) Mei, a student at Kendall College and the recipient of a $2,500 scholarship, is a previous recipient of a LDE scholarship. Emma immigrated to the U.S. at age 2 with her single mother and brother. She started cooking at home at 12 as “a matter of survival…When I was cooking, it gave me a way to escape the harsh reality I was living; for that moment I could just focus on how the food will taste and not the money troubles we were having.” At 16, she started working in restaurants and never stopped. She currently works at Tru and Beautiful Bites. Emma also shared, “My financial troubles have …influenced the way I cook. In my household, we treat every ingredient with respect because we never know when we might not have enough money to buy food. Food does not come into abundance in our home so we make the most of it….We never took food for granted and it made me appreciate every ingredient I was given.”
Washburne Culinary Institute student Cilia A. Flores has received a $2,500 scholarship which will allow her to finish her degree without taking time off to save money to continue her studies. In addition to her own son, she supports her younger brother and mother. A year ago she was laid off from her job at a Chicago Public Charter School, and while she has had to pull from retirement savings to pay her tuition, it allowed her the time to pursue her culinary passion. Cilia believes one of the most important issues facing the food industry today is “…helping our children and youth to be knowledgeable about the different types of food and their health benefits.…By sharing the importance of eating correctly and exposing youth to different food choices, we will be able to change the dynamic of how food is prepared and consumed. This is a major step to changing the health of our country.” To that end, Cilia hopes to work in Charter Schools after graduation. She gives back to her community as a cheerleading coach for the Lawndale Falcons Cheer, and volunteer tutor at Lawndale Community Church. As part of her mentorship, she would like to volunteer with the Green Tables program.