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Chef John Besh’s ‘Chefs Move Scholarship’ recipients are focused on success in the culinary industry

Written by  IntheNOLA.com
If you haven’t heard of the Chefs Move! Scholarship by now, then take heed! Created by local New Orleanian and famous chef, John Besh, and Jessica Bride, “the mission of Chefs Move! is to diversify kitchen leadership by providing minority applicants the opportunity to train up and become leaders in restaurant kitchens and in their communities.” Recipients of the scholarship receive the opportunity of a lifetime: a yearlong fully-paid scholarship, one in Culinary Arts and one in Pastry Arts, to attend the International Culinary Center in New York followed by a two month internship with the Besh Restaurant Group.
 
In its third year, the Chefs Move! Scholarship has given three New Orleanians a chance to have their wildest dreams come true. In 2011, Syrena Johnson became the first recipient of the scholarship. After finishing her nine months of study in New York City, Syrena returned to New Orleans and is completing her internship at one of Chef Besh’s restaurant, Domenica. Last year saw two winners, Calvin Virgil and Chris Okorie, who are currently in the midst of their studies in New York City.
Chef John Besh’s ‘Chefs Move Scholarship’ recipients | IntheNOLA.com 
We got to catch up with Chefs Syrena, Calvin, and Chris to find out what they’ve been up to since winning their respective scholarships.
 
Chef Syrena finished up her internship last month and was excited about the new opportunities awaiting her. “I’m ready for this new chapter,” she said. “Everything that I’ve been through with this experience has prepared me so I’m not worried about where I’m going next because I’m ready to go into another kitchen and learn what I need to learn. Everybody that’s been a part of the scholarship has been like family. Once you’re in, you’re in a close-knit family. I really like that about it; I don’t feel like I was just another project for them. I feel like I’m part of their family.”
 
While in New York Chef Syrena was completely focused on her studies. “I didn’t know what to expect at first, but once I got out there I realized that I’d done this all before. I loved New York, but I didn’t get to experience a lot of the fun because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was super focused on my work. I wanted to give back to them because they gave so much to me.”

She continued, “I went through all the things that everybody else did right after the hurricane and I never planned on going to college. I always knew I was gonna work hard and someday, somebody might see it. Now, I’m a firm believer of that. I always try to work hard everywhere I go. So if you remember nothing else about me, you definitely remember my work ethic.”
 Chef John Besh’s ‘Chefs Move Scholarship’ recipients | IntheNOLA.com
With Chef Syrena having finished her internship, she’s looking forward to the next steps. “After this internship, I plan to take a week or two off to really find out what my style of cooking is. I want to learn different ways of cooking opposed to fine dining. Nothing is wrong with fine dining, but I really want to appeal to the average person. Most people can’t afford to eat at fine dining establishments that often, so I want my food to be affordable and enjoyable. I just want to feed people good food and learn all aspects of the restaurant industry from the back of the house to the front.”

For Chef Calvin, cooking has always been a part of his life. “Cooking has always been there,” he explained. “When I was younger, I used to always help my mother and grandmother cook. We would prepare meals for the family for a variety of occasions.”

Last year, the scholarship added the Pastry Arts scholarship to the already existing Culinary Arts scholarship, of which Calvin was the recipient. “My passion for pastry didn’t come until my senior year in high school. I was in a group called FCCLA (Family Career and Community Leaders of America) and we won the state championship for the culinary department and went on to compete in the nationals. I was assigned to create the pastry, so I did a strawberry tart and that’s when I fell in love with pastries.”
 
Coincidentally, before even applying for the scholarship, Calvin had already visited the International Culinary Center in New York, but knew that he wouldn’t be able to afford to attend the school. However, with receiving the scholarship, Chef Calvin is able to breathe a little easier knowing he has the support of the entire Chef Besh restaurant community behind him. “It feels amazing to finally have someone recognize that this is what I want and that I’m going after it. To have someone have that much faith in me, to give me a full scholarship and to see that I am actually grasping it, that’s amazing!”
Chef John Besh’s ‘Chefs Move Scholarship’ recipients | IntheNOLA.com 
“The experience has been great,” added Chef Calvin. “I really enjoy learning new things everyday, things I plan on taking with me into my career. To be a chef, you have to put in the hours. So when I finish, I’m coming back home and getting back in the kitchen. I don’t want to work in restaurants my whole career; I’d rather open my own bakery where I specialize in cake designs.”

Chef Chris’ cooking story runs a little bit differently. “My background in cooking wasn’t always there,” he explained. “I moved back to New Orleans about four years after Katrina and I needed a job. So a friend of mine told me about Cafe Reconcile’s hospitality program where they help young people get off the street. I applied for it even though I had never cooked before in my life. I ended up really enjoying the art and helping people in the process.”
 
After having worked at Café Reconcile for a month, one of the directors suggested to Chris that he apply for the scholarship. “After I read up on it, I thought that a 9 month education in New York for something I really enjoyed was a no brainer for me. New York has been really great and I like it a lot. School is going really well and I’m really happy that I applied.”
 
As for his favorite thing to cook, curry chicken is at the top of the list (although he explained that a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be just as fine if he had to choose a last meal!).
Chef John Besh’s ‘Chefs Move Scholarship’ recipients | IntheNOLA.com 
When Chef Besh spoke of Chef Chris, one of the first things he said was that Chef Chris was always smiling in the face of anything. “I hear that a lot,” Chef Chris mused. ”Growing up was not easy for me, so sometimes, the most I could do was smile at certain situations.”
 
After graduation, Chef Chris is looking forward to continuing his culinary career. “I’m really looking forward to working with my mentor chef Brian Landry of Borgne Restaurant and learning a lot from him. I’m also looking forward to getting back to the city.”
 
Do you know someone who’s interested in the culinary arts? Be sure to tell them about the Chefs Move! Scholarship. Deadline to apply is April 30!
 
For more information about the Chefs Move! Scholarship and to apply, please visit the website.
Last modified on Friday, 29 March 2013
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