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Grad wins bronze medal in Italian chocolate-sculpting competition

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Mar 22, 2019

Jocelyne Leon-Flores, a 2017 graduate of the College of Lake County’s hospitality and culinary management program, earned a bronze medal in chocolate sculpting Feb. 18 at the 2019 Italian Kitchen Competition in Rimini, Italy.

The annual event organized by the Italian Chefs Federation, is one the most important national competitions of Italian cuisine. Along with a partner, Leon-Flores created an intricate chocolate sculpture of an intricately detailed dragon, grinning as it emerges from the pages of a book. The idea for the dragon came when Leon-Flores and her teammate brainstormed the idea of fictional characters coming to life. “Based on a children’s book, we chose to do a dragon-themed sculpture as if it’s flying into the sky,” said Leon-Flores, a Mundelein native.

Spreading wings and flying is an apt description of Leon-Flores’ career path; the Italian Kitchen Competition was her third trip to Italy in less than 12 months. Last June, she and 17 CLC students spent three weeks on a culinary-themed study abroad tour that Photo of CLC grad Jocelyne Leon-Flores and her chocolate dragon sculptureincluded a stint at the Florence University of Arts (FUA). Leon-Flores and Elana Green, another hospitality and culinary management student, impressed the executive chef and director at Apicius International School of Hospitality, a culinary school located within FUA. The chef then invited Leon-Flores and Green to prepare a five-course Italian meal for the annual James Beard Foundation Gala in New York City last October. This was an impressive accomplishment to be participating in the Academy Awards of the culinary world, according to Chef Rob Wygant, chair of CLC’s hospitality and culinary management program. However, to prepare for the gala, Leon-Flores returned to Florence in late September for three weeks of training.

Photo: Jocelyne Leon-Flores, center, and two instructors from Florence University of the Arts take a break at the 2019 Italian Kitchen Competition, held in February in Rimini, Italy.

After succeeding in catering the James Beard events, the FUA pastry chef and culinary chef asked Leon-Flores to attend the Italian Competition in February.

In her explorations to Italy, where Leon-Flores said she “ate the best Italian food I’d ever had in my life,” she also savored the opportunity to build her resume. “Learning from the FUA chefs is allowing me to gain knowledge and experiences I have never heard of in the U.S.,” said Leon-Flores, a 2014 graduate of Mundelein High School.

 “FUA is a prestigious school for all types of majors, but pastry and culinary are their priorities. Putting myself in a completely different environment from home forces me to adapt and it makes me a much more cultured and better chef. Some people may find it scary that the bar is being set so high for students, but I find it thrilling to be given the expectations of how a chef should perform. That is why I keep on taking these opportunities as they come.”

As she reaps the benefits of international experience, Leon-Flores is quick to point out how CLC helped her build a solid foundation. “CLC is where my culinary career began,” she explained. “If it weren't for Chef Robert Wygant and William Vena to take the time and effort teach me and prepare me for this industry, I do not know where I would be. They were the reason I was able to make an impression to the chefs at FUA.”

Leon-Flores’ ambition has made a strong impression on Wygant, too. “Passion and a strong work ethic are crucial to succeed in any culinary career, and Jocelyne’s passion and drive set her apart from many other students,” he said. “Plus, her willingness to venture out on her own in her studies abroad demonstrates how strong her character really is. It's exciting that she has achieved such a high level of success early in her career.”

Besides the professional growth, Leon-Flores is relishing the chance to live her dream. “Growing up in Mundelein, I always watched cooking competitions and travel shows, and I always dreamed about doing it one day,” she said. “When FUA chefs invited me to go back to Italy and allow me to represent their country and school in the February competition, that’s when I realized I was living the dream. I was honored to be invited back, and as long as opportunities like this continue to come, I will keep taking them. You don’t know how much you can succeed unless you take a chance.”

Leon-Flores has set her sights on a chef’s position at a restaurant in Chicago, New York or Italy. She is also not leaving out the chance to participate in more culinary competitions. “Chef Simone from FUA has invited me to go back and be part of his pasty brigade for the James Beard events this fall in New York. I’m highly considering attending again and be one of six lucky chefs to represent FUA. I can’t wait to see what other possibilities are there are for me.”

For more information on CLC’s hospitality and culinary arts program, visit


About College of Lake County:

College of Lake County is an innovative community college in Lake County, Ill. that transforms lives with its variety of accessible, quality education options. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, College of Lake County provides affordable options in a state-of-the-art setting close to home. A large student network, with small class sizes,provides advantages to our students on a career-related program or a path toward a transfer degree. We’re proud to serve the diverse needs of our community and student body. Connect to your future today at College of Lake County.