Joliet Junior College culinary graduate Diamond Taylor won the gold medal and second place in the American Culinary Federation’s National Student Chef of the Year competition in Orlando, Florida on Aug. 4. Taylor, who competed against four other students from across the country, was only a point away from first place.
Since winning the central region title in April, Taylor was hard at work, following a strict practice routine. In addition to attending classes, preparing for her last semester of finals, and getting ready to launch her own Chicago Heights based business alongside her mom called Princess Catering, she was practicing for the competition three days a week, five to six hours at a time.
Taylor said she was surprised by how quickly her culinary skills improved in just four months.
“There was a lot of prep work, and my plate changed so much all the way up to the end,” she said. “And no matter how late I stayed, my coach Chef Tim Bucci worked with my schedule so he could help me. As long as you are willing to work, the professors at JJC are willing to work with you. I could not have done this without the help of Chef Bucci. Having professors who are that dedicated to their students – that’s something I don’t think you can get at every school.”
Replaying each practice session through her mind as the days went on, Taylor kept busy as her competition date approached. When she finally got to Orlando, she began to feel a little nervous.
“There were a whole lot of chefs there, not just for my competition but for other competitions, too. It was cool being able to talk and network with them,” she said. “But because there are a whole bunch of people around you, you have to set that aside and focus on your own competition and what you have to do.”
Taylor’s competition dish included a sautéed duck breast, braised leg with whole grain mustard sauce, duck roulade, Parisienne gnocchi with charred corn and haircort vert with kale purée and pickled watermelon.
Through all her experience at JJC and through competing, Taylor said that she has discovered so many things. But there’s one lesson that sticks out the most.
“You’ll never get anything if you don’t put in all you have. You have to put your all into this field or you won’t go far,” she said.
Even though her time at JJC is finished, Taylor said she still plans to compete throughout her career.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of Diamond. She made great strides as she practiced for this competition and she put herself alongside some of the best students in the country,” Bucci said. “I only see Diamond moving forward in a direction that will lead her to a successful career.”
Taylor’s immediate goals include running her catering business with her mom. Princess Catering can be found on Facebook and online at www.princesscatering1.com.
For more information about JJC’s Culinary Arts Department, visit www.jjc.edu/culinary-arts or call 815-280-2255.