Simmons' student chefs compete nationally
Simmons Career Academy sending two students for cook-off
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At first glance, Simmons Career Acceleration Academy would seem like a typical high school with typical courses. However, it’s also an institution that helps teach its students to become competent cooks and chefs alike. That training has helped build chefs worthy to take part in a national culinary competition.
James Bayer and Lacey Walters are the two students from Simmons culinary class to be chosen to compete against other students across the country with the use of pots, pans, and spatulas. They will leave on June 27 for the week-long event, held in San Diego, CA.
“It’s crazy,” Walters said. “I didn’t think that we would make it this far honestly. I didn’t think I would make it this far. It’s a very cool experience – to be able to put yourself out there enough to be judged and show people that we can do something great at Simmons.”
Walters joined the course last August after being inspired by her sister, who too had taken it. The sophomore decided to focus her attention on pumpkins, their uses, and interesting facts about them.
She put together a collage showing pictures of what edibles they can be made into such as: roasted seeds, chips, pancakes, muffins, and ice cream to say the least. She also added facts about how to replant them and how they can become eco-friendly.
“Basically, we got a bunch of pumpkins donated from a wedding venue and we’ve grown some in our AG (agricultural class), and we’re trying to educate people on how they can be sustainable with using pumpkins because when they decompose, they release methane and that depletes the Ozone Layer.”
The category that she is competing in, is just that – sustainability of foods.
Bayer is competing in the culinary category.
He started taking the course in August 2019 after switching gears from tech classes.
“I actually came here looking for computer programs,” he said. “I came here looking for coding classes because I like working with computers and technology. I like cooking at home, so it was nice to get into that, learn more about what I can make, and now I’m taking it on professionally.”
Like his classmates, he took a liking to carving watermelons into names and designs, as well as creating watermelon baskets and centerpieces. He also carved a Buccaneers pirate ship that was displayed at the Super Bowl.
His creations earned him the opportunity to enter a contest. And he has remained busy preparing food for special occasions for the catering company owned by his culinary teacher, Sedd Edgeman.
For 11 years, he was the food coordinator and executive chef at Fred’s Market and Johnson Barbeque. Edgeman taught a culinary course for three years at Armwood High School before transferring to Simmons, where he has worked for the past five years.
His teaching method is what helps him get to know each one of his students better.
“I do a lot of one-on-ones, just trying to get in their heads, talk to them from their shoes and my point of view,” Edgeman said. “Once they come here, they realize now they can be the superstars. We just gravitate towards those kids, and we try to put them up there on a pedestal and say ‘listen you can be the best. Don’t ever doubt yourself that you can’t be one of those people who will be successful in life.’”
He strives to be more than just a traditional teacher, but also a confidant the students can come to whenever they have an issue in or out of school, he said.
By observing his students prepare food, he can usually pinpoint each of their skills and encourage them to focus on those.
Before being selected to compete countrywide, the two students had to work their way through the district competition which is comprised of 33 other high schools in Hillsborough County.
Then the number of contestants narrowed as they went on to make it to the statewide competition, and finally they were among a smaller number of Florida students chosen to represent and compete on behalf of their state.
“Each time they move up a level, it’s just a critique they’ve got to build on, from what their score was,” Edgeman said. “But to get to the nationals, you have to be up in the 90% and above. Once you get up there, you’re with the bigger stars.”
Being able to travel by plane to another region of the country will be an eye-opening experience for the students, Edgeman said.
Bayer and Walters’ class have had the opportunity to try food from different ethnic backgrounds.
Asian cuisines are the common dishes that the class has enjoyed the most, Edgeman said.
Walters enjoys sushi and the process of rolling it with raw food and rice.
“I like Thai food a lot,” Bayer said. “Thai is probably one of my preferred cuisines. I like making Thai curry. It’s very well-rounded. It’s got some spice and rice to settle it out.”
Last week, their class prepared roasted pork that they shared with Plant City Mayor Rick Lott when he dropped by the school.
While they’re still contemplating what line of work they would like to go into, Walters and Bayer said that they can see themselves taking on a career as chefs.
They have already received their ServSafe certifications, which verifies that they have had the adequate training needed for food safety.
They’ll also be able to obtain a manager and owner certification, so that when they graduate from school, there’s a higher likelihood that they can open their restaurants.
“It’s a community too,” Bayer said. “When you go into culinary here, you have your family, you have a bunch of friends. Everyone around you is supportive of you, like what you do. They push you to be a better you and try harder.”
Bayer and Walters have the opportunity to walk away with tens of thousands of dollars from the national competition.
However, those funds will go directly toward scholarships for them.
Any contributions to help assist with their trip to San Diego, can be made by check to:
Simmons Culinary or Simmons FCCLA
1202 W. Grant St.
Plant City, FL 33563
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