April 3, 2023

High school and college students competed in SkillsUSA competitions across the state by putting their knowledge and skills to the test among their peers. On Thursday, March 16, Lakes Region Community College (LRCC) culinary student, Keller Grissom of Keene, sharpened his knife and avoided the chopping block after proving his talent at the SkillsUSA New Hampshire State Leadership and Skills Conference at Nashua North High School. His culinary creativity paid off when Grissom was awarded a gold medal on Saturday, March 18 at the awards ceremony at the Kingwood Art Center and will represent the Granite State at SkillsUSA national competition in June.

SkillsUSA is a single-day, multiple-event contest that uses a wide variety of academic-based competitions and leadership activities for students to showcase their talents. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce by helping each student prepare for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.

Grissom’s interest in the culinary arts stems from his days at Cheshire Career Center, a Career and Technical Education Center, where he found his niche in cooking. As a full-time culinary student living on campus at LRCC, Grissom balances his time at school with working part-time at Ellacoya Barn & Grille in Gilford.

“I am grateful to have won the culinary gold medal in the SkillsUSA state championships,” said Grissom. “I am very excited to compete in the national competition and represent LRCC and New Hampshire. All of this experience coupled with my education is providing me with the knowledge and hands-on practice needed in the restaurant industry today. I am confident that these skills and the extra work that I am putting in will pay off in a culinary career.”

Grissom believes in advanced preparation. He arrived hours before his peers for the competition so he could be first to pick out a cooking station. He also spent nearly 120 hours preparing – from menu building and tasting to preparation. LRCC Culinary professors helped him every step of the way including practicing for the competition by doing four full run throughs prior to competition day.

Grissom participated in hands-on culinary skills tests including scratch cooking of a salad, soup and entrée along with a written test. These skills challenges were judged by a panel composed of community college professors, industry professionals and employers. His custom menu was composed of:

Garden salad:  Green leaf lettuce tossed in a balsamic dressing and topped with red onions, paysanne cut radishes and parmesan cheese garnished with shaved carrots.
Creamy root vegetable soup:  Roasted sweet potato, carrots and onions blended into a velouté style cream soup that was garnished with creamy goat cheese and chives.

Mixed herb Statler chicken: Tender chicken breasts poached in stock and apple cider vinegar reduced down to a fresh basil and rosemary velouté cream sauce and complemented by confetti steamed rice and butter roasted brussel sprouts.

Finishing in the top spot, Grissom was awarded a gold medal and a knife engraved to recognize his first-place win. He advances to represent New Hampshire on the national stage at the National SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) taking place in Atlanta, Ga. June 19 – 24, 2023. The NLSC is a gathering of over 15,000 members and a showcase of more than 5,000 career and technical education students from across the country competing in over 100 categories of career, leadership and technical skills areas ranging from aviation to culinary to welding.

Grissom was not the only person from LRCC to be recognized. Chef Robert McIntosh received the Pillars of Success Award in gratitude for exemplary service and generous support of the SkillsUSA New Hampshire chapter. Chef McIntosh is a long-time adjunct professor and a liaison to Running Start, a community college program that enables high school students to take college courses at their own high school.

LRCC offers two associate degree and certificate programs including Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts, and both help set students up for a successful culinary career. The program includes hands-on experience at the Community Table, a student-run on-campus restaurant featuring hand-made culinary creations with rotating cuisines.