For the vast majority of students, high school is a time of exploration and discovery. Some have an idea about what they’d like to do for work, but it takes a student with unique drive and dedication to already have a clear direction about a future career at this age.
Ah, but when they do have a plan, it’s both refreshing and inspiring to hear their stories. We caught up with three remarkable teens who have found their place in the kitchen at an early age and have definite plans to make careers in the culinary world.
For Siquan William, cooking is synonymous with happiness, and that’s reason enough to be in the kitchen.
Raised in Summerfield, the 15-year-old Belleview High School student will be a sophomore this year. The third of four children, Siquan has long associated happy times with the kitchen and food.
“My mom has always cooked a lot, and when I was younger, I got excited about that and tried to help her,” he recalls, adding that he loves his mom’s baked pork chops. With that inspiration, Siquan began cooking for his family because he saw it made them happy. The food-equals-good-times connection took hold at an early age.
And although he likes to cook, he likes baking even more. He enjoys working with yeast dough and makes his own pizza dough. However, cakes are his specialty. He’s made chocolate, strawberry and red velvet, but his vanilla cakes are hands-down the best.
“They’re like the ones you’d get at a bakery,” he admits modestly. And yes, he makes a mean buttercream frosting. Although many recipes call for margarine, Siquan says butter makes for a better frosting.
Speaking of recipes, you’ll often find Siquan online searching for new ones. He likes finding a recipe that sounds appealing and then making the dish with just enough of a change to call it his own.
“I like creating new recipes at home to see how they turn out,” he says.
Although he’s been cooking at home for years, Siquan first got interested in culinary pursuits at school in seventh grade. He’s been involved in the Academy of Culinary Arts at Belleview High School since his freshman year.
“Siquan has a passion for cooking, and he really enjoys the avocation. He would come to my class after he finished his work in other classes and play in the kitchen and work with others,” says Chef Darin E. Nine, director of culinary education.
“He is one of our ‘egg flippers’ in our Breakfast Class, which is open to BHS faculty, staff and to the public, as well, with a reservation. We serve our famous ‘Sammies,’ omelets, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and the best cup of coffee in Marion County. He has honed his skills in making omelets, eggs over-easy, medium and hard. It sounds easy, but when you have 15 tickets running, you better be focused and alert. And because eggs cook quickly, he has to coordinate his eggs with the Sammie station and the pancake station, so all the food on the same ticket comes out at the same time.
“Siquan is very focused, and that lead me to ask him to be on my SkillsUSA Competition Baking Team,” adds Chef Nine. “He and his team won a bronze medal in entrepreneurship at the Florida SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Contest in Lakeland. They had a great business idea and really performed well as a team.”
“Chef Nine teaches us about more than just cooking,” says Siquan. “He taught us how to do a résumé and other things we’d need to know for business.”
Aside from time spent in the culinary program, Siquan tries to invest a few hours each week at home cooking and baking. When he’s not in the kitchen, you can find him involved in sports. Siquan runs track, competing at 100-. 200-, 400- and 800-meter distances.
None of his friends tease him about being a jock who likes to cook. Instead, they’re more than willing to sample the various things he makes. All of his friends and family are “super supportive” of his culinary interests, he adds.
Some kids grew up watching cartoons. Jenna Bush preferred cooking shows.
“I did watch some cartoons,” she admits with a smile, “but my favorite thing was to watch cooking shows on television and look up cooking videos online. I could watch them for hours. To this day, if I’m not making food, I’m researching information about food.”
Jenna, 17, (no relation to George W.) is a senior this year, and although she’ll graduate with a diploma from Lake Weir High School, her junior year and upcoming senior year are being spent at Marion Technical Institute (MTI) in their Culinary Arts & Baking Academy. As a senior, she will have dual enrollment at the College of Central Florida, adding business classes to her culinary studies.
“When Jenna started at MTI, I could tell right off the bat that she was gifted,” says Chef Jason Benavides, Jenna’s instructor in the Culinary Arts & Baking Academy. “So much so that I requested she be transferred into my advanced service class the first week of school. I’ve never regretted the decision. She is a hardworking, dedicated young lady who knows what she wants and will do whatever she has to in order to achieve it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name on the list of top bakers in America in the future.”
“Food is one of the few things I’m really good at and have a talent for, but that could be because I’ve had a lot of practice,” says Jenna, who is known for her amazing cookies. When the culinary students send their cart around the school for students and staff to buy from, everyone looks for Jenna’s cookies.
“My favorite to make is probably snickerdoodles,” she says. “My grandmother did a lot of baking with me and my sister when we were little. She used to make these cookies for us, so the recipe is sentimental to me.”
Although Jenna likes to cook, she’s actually more of a baker. In addition to cookies, she loves making yeast breads and cinnamon rolls.
“Baking is very satisfying when it comes out right. I like the chemistry and exactness of baking,” she explains. “Things have to be just right for the recipe to turn out. For example, water has to be right about 110°F for the yeast to bloom, and you can watch it happen.”
Jenna’s been baking since she was in elementary school. As early as fifth grade, she was making cookies from scratch and bringing them to school for her friends and teachers.
All along, she’s learned from her mistakes.
“When I was in middle school, I was making a recipe that called for soda. It didn’t say ‘baking soda,’ just ‘soda.’ I thought soda—as in Pepsi—would work, but that didn’t turn out so well,” she laughs.
Jenna counts Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, as one of her favorite professionals, “although she doesn’t do as much baking as you would think,” she adds.
If Jenna’s not actually making or eating food, she’s researching it and getting ideas. She works at Panera Bread after school, so there’s not a lot of extra time to cook when she’s not at MTI. Weekends, however, will find her in the kitchen at home making something tasty for her family. Her 5-year-old brother is a big fan, especially when she’s making homemade ice cream.
“My family has been extremely supportive since I’ve started at the Culinary Arts & Baking Academy,” says Jenna. “They’re always asking what I’m making and definitely think I can be successful at this.”
Many 17 year olds have only vague ideas about what they hope to do for a career, but not Jenna. She already has a plan.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, I would like to have my own café or bakery, probably on the West Coast somewhere,” she says. “But before I do that, I want to work my way up through different bakeries and businesses. I want to know about business before I own one!”
If every high school senior had that kind of maturity and eye for the future, our country would be in very good hands.
When September 6 arrives, Jordan Boulerice will officially begin his college culinary studies at Johnson & Wales University at their North Miami campus. But he’s been at home in the kitchen since he was just a boy.
Jordan got his first taste of restaurant work flipping burgers in a family restaurant owned by friends. It didn’t take long for him to develop a passion for food and to realize he wanted a career in the culinary world.
Jordan, 18, graduated from Lecanto High School this past May, where he went through their culinary arts program.
“Ms. Sheffield, my culinary teacher at school, helped me focus on what I want to do,” he says. “I have dwarfism, so that alone is a challenge. It’s not every day you hear there’s a ‘short person’ in the kitchen. I’m determined to open the door for other people with physical and mental challenges.
“Because of my physical stature, I’ve learned you shouldn’t limit yourself. You need to believe you can do whatever you want, whether in the kitchen or another field. Even though I can’t reach certain things, there will always be people in the kitchen who can help out.”
Jordan’s determination and talent have been rewarded. He’s received two different scholarships and a grant from Johnson & Wales. He plans to start with an associate degree in baking and pastry and then possibly go on to get an associate degree in culinary management.
“I’d like to own my own bakery or have a food truck that focuses on bakery items and pastries. I’ve done a lot with baking and pastries at school since my sophomore year,” he notes.
“I’ve taken French in high school; I appreciate that culture and how they have a passion for baking and pastries. I would like to go to France for my internship and see how I can learn more. I’d like to bring some of that passion here and expand on it. Because I’ve just been taking French, it will be fresh in my mind.”
Jordan’s interest in cooking and baking began when he was very young, watching his great-grandfather in the kitchen.
“He was also a baker,” recalls Jordan. “I was kind of his guinea pig; if he made something and I ate all of it, that meant it was good!”
Today, Jordan uses some of his great-grandfather’s recipes, including his carrot cake, which is one of Jordan’s favorite things to bake. He also likes to bake for his younger sister.
In addition to his great-grandfather, Jordan counts Chefs Robert Irvine and Gordon Ramsey among his greatest inspirations. He enjoys watching shows on Food Network and the Cooking Channel; among his favorites are Chopped and The Pioneer Woman.
“I follow a lot of food pages on Facebook,” says Jordan, who likes to take some of those ideas and come up with his own twists on recipes. “I’m into molecular gastronomy,” he adds.
“Jordan has gone through all four levels in our culinary arts program. Lecanto High School is a Premier ProStart School, of which there are only 17 in the state,” says Suzanne Sheffield, the culinary arts instructor at Lecanto High School. “ProStart is the curriculum created by the National Restaurant Association that teaches the students and makes students work-ready in what the industry needs.”
Sheffield, who trained at Johnson & Wales University, has been teaching since 1980, when anything to do with cooking in the schools fell under the category of “home economics.” She’s delighted with how things have changed over the years and is proud to have taught a number of students who are now professional chefs, cooks and restaurant owners.
“Jordan will be the next chef who’s gone through our program,” she says. “One of the most exciting things for me is when former students who are now in the culinary industry come back to visit and mentor the class.”
One day in the future, she won’t be surprised to see Jordan return to do just that, ready to encourage and enlighten a new era of aspiring young chefs.
Ready, Set, Cook
In honor of helping kids hone their cooking and baking skills, we’re giving away two Deluxe Cooking Kits, one for ages 3 and up and one for ages 6 and up, courtesy of Playful Chef by MindWare. You can win one of these sets by visiting the Ocala Style Facebook page (facebook.com/ocalastyle), Liking the page and then staying tuned for details on how to enter to win.