Two Joliet Junior College culinary students won top spots in Pastry Live’s national Student Chocolate Challenge this year, a competition where Brooke Ball, second place, and Megan Kuk, third place, were asked to create chocolate sculptures that encompassed the theme of toys. This was the first time either of them had ever participated in a culinary competition.
“I felt so honored to have won second place because there were really a lot of great pieces there,” said Ball, whose piece was inspired by Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story. “If I were a judge I don’t know how I would choose. A big thanks goes to Chef Andy Chelbana, who was awesome and instrumental in helping me with my piece. He was a great coach. JJC’s culinary program has just been fabulous and they are super supportive of students who participate in competitions. This was a really great experience for me.”
Kuk had the same sentiment for Chlebana and the culinary department. Her very detailed, intricate design included tiny sculptures of Hot Wheels toys, Legos, and train tracks.
“This was my first ever competition, and I’d only really learned the chocolate work a semester before. Now, I feel like I really know how to temper chocolate and work with it to make something great thanks to the awesome professors we have here in the culinary department,” she said.
Kuk, of Plainfield, and Ball, of New Lenox, had been practicing their designs for months before the competition. During the hours of practice each day, both students’ designs changed drastically as they learned better ways to showcase their work. When they drove to the competition, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, Ball and Kuk learned how to travel with their partly-made showpieces. Before the competition began, both students were piecing together their sculptures in their hotel rooms, working in 60-degree temperatures.
“We had our hotel rooms right next to each other and we’d run back and forth to borrow each other’s supplies, it was crazy! But it was a lot of fun,” Ball said. “The both of us, we learned so much, especially about being flexible and resilient because when things break, you have to find a way around it. We gained great problem solving skills.”
Both Kuk and Ball have artistic backgrounds, and have always enjoyed working with art. Kuk plans to become a pastry chef upon graduation. Ball, who teaches art classes on the side, wants to either work in catering or at a hotel or casino.
For more information about JJC’s Culinary Arts Department, visit www.jjc.edu/culinary-arts or call 815-280-2255.