Congratulations to Johnson County Community College's Kelly Conwell, who won the central region's student chef of the year award at the American Culinary Federation Conference this past weekend in Schaumburg, Illinois. "I was absolutely completely happy just to even get to regionals and to win -- oh my gosh. Winning is great," she tells me.
Conwell had to beat out three other students and make a menu in 60 minutes plus five minutes to plate. It took nearly a minute for Conwell to just describe everything on her winning menu: sauteed Florida pompano on leek confit, Meyer lemon curd with thyme-honey, lobster sausage, tarragon pesto and fennel "mille feuille," shallot and chive sauce, vegetable medley roasted golden beet puree and Chervil potatoes.
"I put together a dish at the John Joyce competition at JCCC in November and it won," she says. "It wasn't the same but it had the same profiles and flavors and my teacher, Felix Sturmer, helped me put together the new menu."
next competition is in July in Orlando, where she'll compete against the three
other regions' winners for the top student chef in the country. Conwell is already preparing. Sturmer, she says, "was
like, 'let's take a week off, catch our breath' but I've already called
an amazing pastry chef friend to come and help me create a dessert that
is going to wow the judges.... I've had numerous students offer to help
me practice, professors have volunteered to critique my meals... The
support system is fantastic at JCCC. You couldn't get better."
When Conwell isn't at school, she is usually in the kitchen at the new Chaz in the Raphael Hotel. Previously she worked at Pierpont's and Michael Smith's.
She has lots of options for the future but when I
asked the Concordia, Kansas, native what she wants to do she demurred.
"That changes every day. Being only 21 years old I don't think
I want to own my own restaurant yet. I just applied for a foreign
exchange program to study in Germany for a year and hopefully I get
that. But if I win nationals, then I get to represent the United States
in the international competition in Chile and after that there's
another competition." The college has also added new classes she's interested in
taking. "Things could definitely change. For now, I'm just thinking