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March 25, 2021

Chef association names JCCC chef apprentice of 2020

A student who started at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) as a high school junior and is focused on sustainable food has been named JCCC’s Chef Apprentice of the Year for 2020.

Legacy of Excellence

Cecilia Knight is the 42nd recipient of the award. In addition to adding this prestige to her résumé, she received a gift certificate and engraved chef’s knife; her name will be added to a plaque in the Wylie Hospitality and Culinary Academy; and she was invited to speak at a JCCC Board of Trustees meeting.

Apprentices are nominated by their supervising chef, whom they work with and learn from for 6,000 hours over several years. For Cecilia, that was Ryan Williams – also a JCCC graduate – at Rye in Leawood.

The selection process includes reviewing GPA, work ethic and involvement in JCCC’s chef apprenticeship program, as well as an interview with board members from the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Greater Kansas City Chefs Association. Those same board members then choose a winner and a runner-up.

Jerry Marcellus, Chef Apprentice Coordinator and Hospitality Management Professor, says the award recognizes an outstanding JCCC student who continually takes initiative and aims for excellence.

Meet Cecilia Knight

Marcellus remembers Cecilia from her very first culinary class. “We were cutting up chickens,” he recalls. “I often walk around to see how the students are doing since many have never done it before and are creeped out. But here’s 18-year-old Cecilia, cutting away. Come to find out, she had grown up butchering. This was nothing new for her.”

Cecilia is the oldest of 12 children in a family that has grown or raised much of their food for the past six years. “I’ve learned how to manage chickens, bees and dairy goats,” she says, “and how to butcher goats and meat rabbits.”

She graduates this May and hopes to continue at Rye as long as the opportunity allows. Her long-term goal is to become an executive chef, ideally in a farm-to-table setting. “My dream,” she says, “would be to combine a restaurant with a farm and produce most everything for the restaurant there.”

She’d also like to bring more awareness of sustainable food to low-income communities. “Many people don’t know how to use locally grown food. I’m passionate about teaching that, as well as how to make use of the whole animal.”

Apprentice Chefs Get Noticed

Hannah Baugh was runner-up for the award. She apprentices at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate under Executive Chef Phil Frohling, also a JCCC graduate. Marcellus says Hannah was described by Frohling as “the glue that holds the kitchen together.”

Hannah’s goal is to own a catering and meal-planning business. As she works toward graduating in a year, she’s already building her business model, making connections in the community and beginning to build her client base.

Both chef apprentices love what they do. Cecilia sums it up: “I love looking through the kitchen pass to see people enjoying their meal. It puts a smile on my face to think, ‘I made that.’”

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