Brookdale Community College’s Culinary Arts Award Ceremony on Wednesday, May 8, 2024, was an afternoon of celebration, recognition, and culinary excellence. The event, attended by esteemed guests, faculty, and students, honored the outstanding achievements of the college’s culinary program.

President Dr. David M. Stout and Chef David Burke

The ceremony commenced with warm welcomes from Professor Michelle Zuppe and Dr. David M. Stout, President of Brookdale Community College. He then extended his heartfelt remarks, emphasizing the significance of culinary education and its impact on the community.

“Through culinary education, we cultivate skilled chefs and nourish communities, fostering cultural exchange and economic growth,” Dr. Stout stated. “The culinary arts serve as a bridge between traditions, bringing people together around the universal language of food. Today, as we celebrate the accomplishments of our students, we also reaffirm our commitment to excellence and innovation in culinary education.”

A highlight of the afternoon was the presence of renowned Guest Speaker Chef David Burke, whose contributions to Brookdale’s Culinary and Scholarship Program have been invaluable. Chef Burke’s illustrious career, marked by innovation and culinary artistry, has inspired countless aspiring chefs. His commitment to education and philanthropy has dramatically enriched the culinary landscape.

“In the culinary circus, there’s a lot of drama, but there’s also a world filled with passion, creativity, and opportunity,” he conveyed to the graduates. “Embrace the journey, and remember, if you love what you do, it’s not just work—it’s a delicious adventure.”

His culinary businesses span the globe from New Jersey to Saudi Arabia. Under the management of David Burke Hospitality Management (DBHM) Chef Burke has 21 award-winning restaurants, a bakery and an online collection of cookware and kitchen gadgets and more. Burke’s contributions to the culinary world have earned him international acclaim, with accolades including prestigious awards such as the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Diplome d’Honneur, Japan’s Nippon Award of Excellence, Robert Mondavi Award of Excellence and the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in Culinary Arts. Recently he was bestowed an honorary doctorate in Business Administration by Johnson & Wales University. As he continues to expand his culinary empire, Chef Burke remains a trailblazer in the culinary world, with a vision that transcends borders and expectations.

Congratulating the Class of 2024, Burke said, “As you step into the hospitality industry, remember that true success is defined by the joy you bring to others. Whether crafting memorable dishes or creating unforgettable experiences, let your passion and care shine through in everything you do. Your culinary journey awaits!”

Patricia Yiannoulou, the elected student speaker for the Brookdale Culinary Class of 2024 and had the highest amount of community hours with 216, expressed deep gratitude for the transformative experience of her culinary education. She reflected on her journey, acknowledging challenges and setbacks, but ultimately celebrating the achievement of completing her degree. She highlighted the bonds formed with her classmates and instructors, emphasizing their support and camaraderie through shared experiences, both joyful and challenging.

Yiannoulou paid tribute to Charles Parent Jr., a fellow student who had passed away. As he was called, Charlie brought so much wisdom, kindness, and humor into the kitchen. He was part of the team, providing mutual support through every challenge and triumph. His decision to start culinary school at 57 years old was a feat that took a lot of courage and commitment.

“To the man who won dish of the day more than anybody else in this room. I guess God needed a private chef because he got a really good one. Charlie, we know you’re resting now, but you are loved, and you are missed more than you can possibly imagine,” she said.

Yiannoulou encouraged her classmates to savor the moment of graduation and embrace the future with confidence, resilience, and a spirit of adventure. She expressed heartfelt appreciation to Brookdale Community College and all those who contributed to their culinary education, closing with a call to cherish the memories of their time together and embrace the opportunities ahead.

The pinnacle of the ceremony is the presentation of the prestigious Cordon Awards. These awards recognize excellence in culinary arts and showcase students’ talents and dedication. Dante Marino claimed the coveted first-place Blue Cordon, while Faith Burgess and Paul Cacace were honored with the second-place Red and third-place White Cordon awards, respectively.

Faith Burgess, Dante Marino, and Paul Cacace

Professor Chad Schoonveld presented the White Cordon Award. “Paul Cacace exemplifies dedication, passion, and a relentless pursuit of excellence in the culinary arts,” he said. “He has led with his actions and not by being the loudest in the kitchen; he was always punctual and eager to contribute. Paul consistently demonstrated a solid commitment to excellence, often among the first to start washing dishes and seeking feedback to improve his culinary creations. His dedication to the craft, fantastic attitude, and passion set him apart and have rightfully earned him this prestigious award.”

Professor William Roll presented Faith Burgess, the Red Cordon Award. “Faith embodies the spirit of excellence and dedication to her craft,” Roll said. Like a flame that needs no ignition source, she shines brightly with her meticulous attention to detail and unwavering commitment to her classmates. Her passion and talent are truly inspiring.”

“Professor Zuppe presented the Blue Cordon Award to Dante Marino, a dedicated and respectful student who exemplifies studiousness and focus in pursuing culinary excellence. “Dante’s commitment to refining his skills is evident in his eagerness to seek instructor feedback and his willingness to go above and beyond in his culinary education,” she said. “His volunteer work and upcoming externship in Spain reflect his passion for the culinary arts and his determination to excel.”

In addition to the Cordon Awards, students were recognized for their outstanding community service, academic excellence, and leadership achievements. Notable recipients included Rian McCusker, who achieved 131 hours to receive a Community Service Award and the Maitre d’ Award; Edward Schmitz, who received the Epicurean Club award; Amy Potochar, who received the Excellence in Baking & Pastry Award; and Patricia Yiannoulou, who received the Chef Instructor’s Award. These students demonstrated exemplary dedication and commitment to their craft.

Brookdale Community College’s commitment to nurturing culinary talent and fostering a culture of excellence empowers aspiring chefs to pursue their passions and excel in the culinary arts.

Please visit Brookdale Community College’s Culinary Arts Program for more information.

Featured photo: Faith Burgess, Dante Marino, and Paul Cacace