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East Lee County High School senior Caricia Rodriguez wins competitive scholarship contest

April 17, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

East Lee County High School Senior Caricia Rodriguez won first place for the first-ever Top Chef Challenge, which earned her $1,250 in scholarship money.

The Greater Lehigh Chamber of Commerce provided the scholarship funds to three contestants. Seniors Virginia Reyes placed second earning $750 in scholarships and Tori McNear placed third earning $500.

East Lee County High School Culinary Instructor Arthur Phillips said the April 2 challenge was awesome.

Article Photos

First place winner Senior Caricia Rodriguez, third place winner Senior Tori McNear and second place winner Senior Virginia Reyes with Culinary Instructor Chef Arthur Phillips and Greater Lehigh Chamber of Commerce Past Chairman Ed Moore.


"It was very interesting for the first year, but was well received by the students," he said. "We had a couple guest chefs here that were extremely impressed by the students abilities and professionalism."

Rodriguez made a twist on chicken cordon bleu with a chipotle cream sauce and chocolate banana bread pudding with coconut ice cream. McNear prepared fresh pasta with pesto and a chocolate espresso brownie and Reyes made stuffed pork loin with a banana cupcake.

Phillips said the students were presented with eight mystery ingredients, which were sponsored by Healthy Harvest Community Farms. The students had to use six of the ingredients.

"Typically a mystery box for a professional chef, he will be given five ingredients right at the time they are to cook. We sent them (the students) the ingredients the night before, so when they woke up in the morning they could see what they had to cook with," he said, adding that the students did not have much time to practice what they were making. "The recipes were going to be last minute."

All three students plan on going into the hospitality industry after high school.

"I'm extremely proud of them, all of the students," Phillips said, adding that these three students helped get the culinary program started. "They helped get the academy off the ground and they worked hard to get to where they are."

The culinary program at East Lee County High School was developed three years ago as one of the academy's that allows students to have real life experiences in the culinary and hospitality industry.

"Our goal is to get the students ready for jobs as seniors, or when they graduate make a transition straight into the culinary and hospitality field," Phillips said.

Every day is different, just as it is in the restaurant business. He said some days they work out of their textbook learning about the hospitality industry - planning, numbers, menu writing and costs. Other days include hands-on cooking where the students learn about different skills and techniques.

"The students have great times at all the academies here at East Lee. Mine is one of the newest ones and it is very well received," Phillips said.

Students start off with a freshmen introduction to culinary arts followed by level two, three and four.

"It's a four-year program," he said.



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