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March 1, 2018

Hard work and determination propel student’s success

Janelle Domoney prepares more food before 10 a.m. than many people do in a month. A student in JCCC’s Chef Apprenticeship program, Domoney works full time at the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center while taking a full load of classes.

Dedicated to her craft

When Domoney decided to pursue her dream of becoming a chef, JCCC’s Chef Apprenticeship program was at the top of her list. The program has an Exemplary rating from its accrediting body, the American Culinary Federation (ACF), and Domoney said it’s a great investment. “You get a tremendous culinary education at a community college price,” Domoney said. “I like the apprenticeship aspect so you really are learning what it’s like to work in a kitchen, to be a chef, while completing your education.”

Although Domoney lived almost four hours from Kansas City, she chose to work at the Westin Crown Center with Executive Chef Luong Lee, who is a JCCC Chef Apprenticeship alumnus. “I wanted to work at a hotel because they never close; you cook all the time. I wanted as much good, solid experience as I could get under a top-notch chef to make me more marketable,” she said.

So she packed up and moved to a 494-square-foot apartment in downtown Kansas City and started working on her dream.

Never a dull moment

On any given day, Domoney’s tasks might include cooking guests’ custom orders at the omelet station in one of the hotel-operated restaurants, or preparing meals for the lunch rush at one of its quick-service restaurants, or prepping for a banquet.

Although banquet preparation is a lot of work, Domoney said she loves it. Vegetables must be cut uniformly, chicken breasts or steaks seared to perfection, and the sauces mixed and cooked to the right consistency. The salads, vegetables, starches, proteins and desserts must all be created, put on plates and then stored until ready to be served.

There’s a lot going on as Domoney’s team makes hundreds of plates of food and puts them in the hot box – a temperature-controlled box about the size of two residential refrigerators. “Keep in mind, we’re doing 150 to 400 or more plates at a time,” Domoney said. “And not all plates are the same; we have to address individual dietary requests like vegetarian and gluten-free.”

It requires a lot of coordination between multiple departments such as garde-manger (cold food production for salad), pastry (for the baked goods) and banquets. Domoney will log hours in each of these areas to complete her apprenticeship.

All of the food has to be ready at the same time and kept warm until dozens of servers swarm the banquet hall, delivering platters to hundreds of hungry guests.

But it’s not over for the chefs. As soon as the food goes out, preparation starts for the next event. Domoney said for one corporate event – a series of luncheons over two days that served approximately 8,000 people – they cut and prepared 4,000 pounds of vegetables.

Labor of love

Even chef apprentices who aren’t interested in large-scale events don’t get a break. If you work at a medium- to large-sized restaurant, you must prepare many different dishes in a short period of time. And at a small restaurant, you do most of the work yourself. “There’s no boredom as a chef,” Domoney said.

 “Being a chef has been over-romanticized on TV,” said Jerry Marcellus, Apprentice Coordinator and Professor of Hospitality Management. “It’s a job that’s stressful, fast-paced, physically demanding and where both speed and perfection are a must in a professional kitchen.”

But students like Domoney wouldn’t have it any other way. JCCC’s robust apprenticeship program is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and requires 6,000 hours of hands-on work over three years with an ACF-accredited facility. Students who complete the 75-credit-hour program also receive an Associate of Applied Science degree.

Marcellus said the program is a great combination of classroom and work experience. “Our apprentices are in high demand. Not only are they graduating with a strong foundation of culinary knowledge, but they also are getting the management and financial side of the business.” Graduates go on to run kitchens in restaurants, country clubs or hotels, or to own their own restaurants.

Always learning

Domoney has been amazed at how willing the chefs are to teach her the tricks and tools of the trade. “They’re operating this huge, fast-paced business, and yet, they take time to show me how to make 15 gallons of soup or fillet a salmon.”

Domoney said that when she's on campus at the Wylie Hospitality and Culinary Academy, the teaching never stops. “It happens in the hallways; it happens everywhere. The knowledge never stops flowing between students and faculty in this beautiful facility.”

Domoney shared three qualities that she thinks potential chef apprentices should have:

  • A basic knowledge of cooking – know measurements and understand how heat interacts with food.
  • Passion for cooking and love for hard work.
  • The willingness to fail, look stupid and ask questions.

All of those are learning opportunities that will make you better.

Now you’re cooking!

If you think you have what it takes to master the Chef Apprenticeship program, contact Jerry Marcellus at 913-469-8500, ext. 3611.