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Savory or sweet: Culinary alumna succeeds with international experiences

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Apr 27, 2022

Food is something enjoyed all around the world, with all cultures having their own unique twist on popular dishes. Career opportunities are available all over the world, and College of Lake County (CLC) Hospitality and Culinary Management alumna Jocy Flores took advantage of them early on in her young professional career.

Jocy Flores with her award for her chocolate sculptureWhen Flores first came to CLC in 2015, taking culinary courses wasn’t her plan. This was despite her father owning a restaurant in Round Lake. She even worked at it.

Photo: Jocy Flores after winning bronze in a chocolate sculpting competition in Rimini, Italy.

“I was an art major,” Flores said. “I was looking for classes to take for my gen eds, and when I read the course descriptions for the culinary courses, I liked the community feel of them.”

For Flores, it was either taking a year off school or enrolling at CLC. She hadn’t planned on going to college during high school, and she said she was lucky to find something she was passionate about.

She started out as a dishwasher at the restaurant but worked her way up to cooking. In doing so, she gained some technical skills, which benefited her when she started taking culinary courses.

“I was completely in love with it,” Flores said. “We got to learn everything, starting with the basics. It was a new world for me, and the teachers were so detailed with everything.”

One of Flores’ favorite parts of the class was the structure of the courses. They follow a natural progression, starting with the basics in Culinary I and working up to proteins and more expensive items in Culinary III.

A student in the culinary program can follow either the culinary route or the pastry route as their focus.

As a part of the program, students also get to work in CLC’s student-run Prairie Restaurant, cooking high-quality dishes and running a real restaurant. Prairie will soon be moving just south of the Grayslake Campus to the Brae Loch Golf Club facility, thanks to a partnership with the Lake County Forest Preserves. This location has greater public exposure on Route 45 and will bring in more traffic for students to get additional experience.

After graduating in 2017, Flores quickly began the first of her international experiences. She took a two-week trip to Lima, Peru, where she learned about cooking Peruvian cuisine.

Flores then worked in a restaurant called Trace in Libertyville for a year before it closed and an opportunity arose for a CLC alum to go to Italy. There, she took restaurant classes starting on day one, and after finalizing a menu, went straight to work in the restaurant.

“CLC helped me build connections,” Flores said. “It’s important to keep them open because you never know who you might need to reach out to for help later.”

Though Flores was a culinary major at CLC, she accidentally signed up for the pastry program in Italy. Her former CLC instructors helped talk her into doing the pastry program, especially since she was the only one signed up for it.

“I have always strived to be like my teachers,” she said. “I knew they were capable of doing something like this, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to represent CLC.”

Along with the restaurant work in Italy, Flores was selected as part of a group to cook at the James Beard House in New York. Each year, the James Beard Foundation hosts over 200 dinners from acclaimed chefs. The foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone.

Flores wanted to learn more about Italian cuisine after this experience. American Italian food is much different, she said, so she took another opportunity in Italy and worked as a cook in an assisted living community. She was promoted to dining director within six months.

In total, Flores traveled to Italy four times for educational purposes in a two-year span, each time learning more and gaining experiences she now uses when leading kitchens in the United States.

Currently, Flores is working at an assisted living facility in Tampa after starting at the company’s Glenview location in 2020. She’s also traveling in the region, introducing cooking techniques to residents and community members in assisted living.

“Jocy is a wonderful, dedicated student with a drive to succeed,” Culinary Instructor William Vena said. “She is extremely passionate and reliable every day she walks into the kitchen. Jocy is on track to becoming one of the bright future chefs of America wherever she lands. She’s a true all-star in my eyes.”

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.