Educating Tomorrow’s Culinary Creators

ICC’s culinary program is a key player in Peoria’s thriving food scene. 

by Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, Illinois Central College
ICC’s culinary program
Earlier this year, ICC student Elijah Pulley (second from left) was named “Student Chef of the Year” by the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association.

Many factors make the Peoria area appealing, inviting and unique. Whether it’s exciting events and entertainment, a plethora of live music and concerts, or diverse arts and theater offerings, the region offers something for everyone. The food scene is no exception. In fact, Peoria ranked fifth in Thrillist’s best places for food and drinks in the state of Illinois. With a wide range of trendy restaurants and hundreds of authentic dining options, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds. 

Turning Passions Into Careers
Illinois Central College is proud to contribute to our area’s fantastic food culture through our Culinary Arts Management program, which educates and certifies tomorrow’s food service directors, banquet and executive chefs, head and line cooks, executive sous chefs, food prep workers and bakers, to name a few. It gives students the ability to turn their passion into a career by teaching them the skills needed to work in a professional kitchen. Students also have the opportunity to participate in various catering events, high-end fundraisers and extracurricular activities to give them the experience needed to work in the culinary industry.

The ICC Culinary Arts Management program has an award-winning history. The program was awarded this year’s prestigious “Best in the Midwest – Education/Institution/Business/Industry” designation by the Heart of Illinois Hospitality Association (HOIHA). All six nominees for the Heart of Illinois (HOI) Chefs’ “Student Chef of the Year” were ICC Culinary Arts students or recent graduates of the program, while ICC alum Chef Josh Adams has been recognized nationally as a James Beard Award nominee and semi-finalist. In addition, ICC Culinary Arts Management professor and program chair Chef Charles Robertson and Chef Keith Shank were nominated for HOI Chefs’ “Chef of the Year,” as were ICC alumni Chef Golda Ewalt and Chef Amy Carey. 

“We offer a world-class culinary education with a community college approach and price point,” says Chef Robertson. "The program trains students in real-world, marketable skills. Cooking is a universal language—a sauté is a sauté no matter where you live. Our graduates can go anywhere in the world and find a job.”

ICC culinary students
ICC culinary students
ICC culinary students work in a state-of-the-art environment designed to replicate a professional kitchen and have the opportunity to participate in catering events, fundraisers and other extracurricular activities.

Opportunities For Success
Here in Greater Peoria, the current median salary for chefs and head cooks is $44,508, with 33 annual job openings. However, the need for chefs and cooks is projected to grow 11 percent between now and 2028—a much faster growth rate than all other occupations—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. ICC’s high placement rate with businesses, both locally and nationally, will be especially important in the future, as a greater demand will also exist for a variety of venues, resulting in the opening of more restaurants. In order to provide these healthier, high-quality dishes, establishments are increasingly hiring food service managers, who have a median salary of $40,888 with 145 annual job openings. 

In February, ICC student Elijah Pulley was named HOIHA’s “Student Chef of the Year” after being recognized nationally as the American Culinary Federation’s “Young Chef of the Month” for The Culinary Insider in 2018. Pulley, who graduated in May, was thrown from a pickup truck bed and entered a coma for five days at the age of 14. He was diagnosed with a severe, traumatic brain injury and spent the next two years relearning and adjusting. “I struggled emotionally, socially and physically,” he recalls. “I stopped caring about everything—even myself.” 

Pulley enrolled in the ICC Culinary Arts Management program in 2017. “ICC was, without a doubt, the most affordable option, but also the best option. ICC wants to ensure each student has the same opportunities for success, regardless of their starting point, and they’ve opened numerous doors for me,” he explains. “The program has given me a sense of accomplishment, a better understanding of food, and real-world and industry advice. I am not only a better chef as a result of this program, but also a better person.”

While cooking professionally can be a challenging field, students can master the culinary arts at Illinois Central College to not only have a rewarding career, but a successful life. For more information, visit icc.edu. PM

Add new comment

This question is used to prevent automated spam submissions.