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JCCC Stories

Harvesting the Best

July 22, 2018


The 10th anniversary of JCCC's Harvest Dinner deserves an outstanding meal, created by exceptional talent. That’s why Chef Kelly Conwell will be in the kitchen.

Chef Kelly Conwell is more than an executive chef at Stock Hill – one of the few female executive chefs in the Kansas City area. She's more than the 2009 American Culinary Federation's Student Chef of the Year.

You see, Conwell sharpened her skills – and her knives – right here at JCCC's Culinary program.

Those who snag a ticket to this year’s Harvest Dinner are in for a treat, because as this year’s guest chef Conwell will turn delicious farm-fresh produce into something tasty. If you haven’t bought your tickets, do so today. This event to support Sustainable Agriculture students at JCCC sells out fast!

Harvesting talent

Much of who Conwell is as a chef and leader was formed years ago under the tutelage of Jerry Marcellus and Felix Sturmer, JCCC Hospitality Management professors. In fact, it was Marcellus who encouraged her to try out for the JCCC Culinary Team. That eventually led to Conwell’s ACF honor, bestowed the same year she graduated with two associate degrees – one in Food & Beverage Management and one in Culinary Arts through the Chef Apprenticeship program.

“Chef Marcellus saw something in me, even though I was as green as they get going into culinary school,” Conwell recalled. “He pushed me outside my comfort zone, and that has stayed with me. To this day if I’m uncomfortable with something, I read about it. I try and try again until I get it.”

As head pastry chef for all five Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar restaurants in the region, she pushed herself by occasionally cooking entrées. One day she’d create desserts that leave you craving more, then turn around the next day and work with fish.

Farm-to-fork

Conwell is still pushing herself. The young student who started out creating sweet and savory pastries that blended down-home comfort flavors with the most delicate baking techniques has matured into a well-rounded leader in professional kitchens. She’s equally comfortable butchering a side of beef as she is simmering the most delicate berries into a compote to top a flaky pastry of buttery, rosemary delight.

She worked as a pastry chef at Bluestem, a Kansas City standout that specializes in farm-to-fork creations, but it was during her time with Jax that she started learning more about sustainable agriculture and fisheries. She likes how sustainable practices work with nature, not against it, to create healthier plants and animals. And using the freshest on-hand produce is a great way to stretch creatively, both for herself and her team.

“It’s fun to give the staff a box of produce and say, ‘Let’s make something for staff meal’ or ‘Let’s incorporate this into a special for the night,’” she said. “It’s their responsibility to prep it, plate it, show it to the staff and talk about it in lineup. I think they appreciate the food even more.”

Sustaining lessons

Conwell has excelled in the nine years since she graduated from JCCC. She still passes along the most important lessons she learned at JCCC from watching Sturmer – her mentor and culinary team coach all three years at JCCC.

“He taught me so much about being respectful not only to the chef but the people you work with,” she said. “Talk to people the way you want to be treated. Check and double-check the recipes. Have other people read them before you hand them in. Always be the last to leave.”

She is thrilled to soon share what she’s cooked up for this year’s Harvest Dinner. And don’t worry – there will be pastries.

Reserve your table

Purchase tickets: $55 a person or $440 for a table of eight.