Culinard Serves Up Competitions for High School Students

Apr 3, 2014

When Judy Brown was culinary arts instructor at Bob Jones High School's Culinary Academy in Madison, Alabama, she needed a design for her fledgling program's facility. "I went to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Georgia looking at culinary programs, but I wound up at Culinard [in Birmingham] and designed it after their training program," Brown says. "They had great training stations which is what I wanted to set up so my students would learn the skills they needed to go right into culinary."

Now Judy Brown is Education Specialist with the Alabama State Department of Education and Culinary Arts Coordinator for the state's Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and the training program she started at Bob Jones has been duplicated at dozens of high schools all over Alabama. As head of the culinary division, Brown oversees the FCCLA's Star Event championship, where student teams from all over the state demonstrate their skills in an Iron Chef-style competition hosted by Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College.

Culinard Serves Up Competitions for High School Students

The relationship with Culinard that began with training stations has grown into a solid partnership over the past ten years. Chef Antony Osborne, Dean of Culinard, has been working alongside Brown on honing the FCCLA curriculum. "We're developing these students while they're in school and giving them a taste of what the culinary world is all about," Chef Osborne says. "We've see this explode from two or three teams the first year to 16 or so. It's having a terrific effect in the state with the expansion in the hospitality industry. As the popularity of these programs grows, we're seeing students become more aware of techniques, healthy eating habits and teamwork. This is all reflected in the competitions."

"Culinard has helped get us to the next level," Brown says. "They help provide the outstanding chefs to judge, the facility, the food and help us bring in business support. Culinard also provides scholarships and chef jackets for the winners."

In addition to the FCCLA competition, Culinard hosts and provides judges, food and prizes for several other high school culinary competitions. Chef Osborne helped create an annual competition in conjunction with Golden Corral restaurants for local students, called Golden Spoon. The Golden Spoon competition is based on an Iron Chef concept -- students working in teams have an hour to prepare dishes and are given a "surprise" ingredient to incorporate. The teams are judged on safety and appearance, team organization, food production and food taste/presentation. The winning teams receive special recognition and cash awards, while the seniors on the winning teams are offered Culinard scholarships.

Culinary arts and commercial baking are two areas tested as part of the SkillsUSA competition. Instead of working in teams, students competing in SkillsUSA work individually and are tested on a variety of skills, including organization, knife skills, measuring and creative .presentation. The goal of this competition is to help hone students' techniques so they enter the workforce prepared with the skills they need to succeed.

In February of this year, the ProStart Invitational became the newest culinary competition to heat up the kitchens of Culinard. ProStart was designed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to "teach, test, and award industry-recognized certificates to students meeting high academic standards in hospitality education." The curriculum was adopted into high school curriculum by the state of Alabama two years ago. In addition to a culinary competition with one hour to prepare a meal, the competition also includes a hospitality management portion where teams are tasked with developing a business proposal for a new restaurant concept.

"Competition is healthy," says Chef Osborne. "These competitions set high expectations and standards, and help grow those standards throughout the state. We're seeing the benchmark get higher every year."

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