Victory Trade School adds to culinary workforce

Eric Olson, SBJ EditorThere’s more than one way to slice up a career, especially in culinary arts. For some 20 graduates of Victory Trade School, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

 The aptly named Taste of Victory on Nov. 8 celebrated the scholastic and life work of 20 men and women on their way to careers in the food industry. A smorgasbord of offerings from the kitchens of Fire & Ice, Sisters in Thyme Bakery, Hy-Vee, Leong’s Asian Diner, the Keeter Center and others provided a sampling of their culinary education.

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Cooks prepare the dishes for guests.

Cooks prepare the dishes for guests.

From broken paths of addiction, homelessness and other struggles, these students are writing new pages to their life stories – moving on as qualified and productive members of the Ozarks’ workforce or elsewhere.

The individuals are graduating from VTS’ culinary arts, GED or New Life programs, and a few already are taking that next step to employment. For Jason Hegstrom and Nathan Harbison, jobs await them at Twin Oaks Country Club and Big Cedar Lodge, respectively.

Local employment is nothing new for former VTS students, and the latest poster child is 2011 graduate John Allen, a former methamphetamine addict who’s now the head chef at Aviary Cafe and Creperie. Also, 2005 graduate Jim Thurman has worked at Big Cedar as production cook for eight years and has developed an intern/extern program with the school.

John Allen, head chef at the Aviary Cafe, is a 2005 graduate.

John Allen, head chef at the Aviary Cafe, is a 2005 graduate.

To get the graduates on their way, VTS brought in keynote speaker Jay Ziobrowski, the corporate chef for InHarvest. A two-time fired chef and allergen-free recipe expert, Ziobrowski prepared them for layoffs and offered advice on following trends.

Keynote speaker Jay Ziobrowski offers advice: "Cook darn good food."

Keynote speaker Jay Ziobrowski offers advice: “Cook darn good food.”

He recalled one of his layoffs at Schwan’s in Minnesota.

“The loss of that job was awesome,” he told the graduates. “It happens. You get fired. That’s the industry. It’s OK – just don’t let it happen a lot.”

That roll-with-it attitude carries over into his advice on taste-bud trends. He suggested the budding cooks follow trends but not in a bandwagon kind of way – “Let them evolve,” he says.

“And treat everybody like a VIP, whether it’s the president or me or grandma,” he adds. “You leave here to tackle the world. I say that because it’s crazy out there. Be the you that is genuine and cook darn good food.”

Now, that’s applicable advice in any industry.

Images courtesy of Miles Boyer Photography.

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