CAI Graduation Launches Culinary Career for Pottstown Resident


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By Neree Aron-Sando

Baking and Pastry Major Hannah Irvin graduation from the Montgomery County Community College Culinary Arts Institute in May 2015 was bittersweet.

“In April 2013, I lost my biggest support, motivation, and inspiration,” said Irvin, a 19-year-old Pottstown woman, about the death of her grandfather. “He always called me his little cook and asked if he could be the first customer at my bakery.  He had so many dreams for Hannah Irvin photo1me, and pushed me to accomplish my own. Losing him was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. I wish he were here to taste all the goodies I made in school or to watch me walk across the stage at graduation. Every day I pushed myself to go to school and do the best I could knowing he’s watching from above.”

Not that the rest of the college experience was, please forgive the pun, a piece of cake.

Finances were one of several challenges for Irvin. “Working 30-plus hours a week and going to school full time causes exhaustion and lack of motivation,” she said. “To be able to afford my education, I became a workaholic, picking up every possible shift, and staying late and going in early became an everyday occurrence. Being able to find time to do homework, journals, projects, and convert recipes was one thing I struggled with.”

As if that weren’t enough, two days before Thanksgiving 2014, she underwent a second knee surgery.

But it was all worth it. “I never once regretted my decision to attend Montgomery County Community College. It is a tight-knit and supportive way to get your education in a timely manner. I am getting the same education here that I would at a different culinary school, for a lot less money,” she said.

Receiving the Benjamin Tumolo Scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year certainly helped, she said.

“I absolutely love the Culinary Art Institute of Montgomery County Community College. The age range of students is wide, and everyone is very supportive of every classmate. All the teachers are there to help you and want you to succeed.  I am very grateful for every opportunity that I have received while attending the CAI,” Irvin said. Hannah Irvin photo 2

Several exceptional opportunities Irvin experienced at CAI included participating in the opening of the new facility in Towamencin Township, as well as the student-operated Forty Foot Café and Bistro 1400 restaurant.

“It is something I have never experienced before and was glad to be part of the grand openings. With a lot of hard work, determination, and motivation from my classmates, we were able to accomplish something that will go down in history,” Irvin said.

But she hopes she will experience it again when she opens her own bakery in a few years. But first, she will be moving to Sandusky, Ohio, to work at Cedar Point, voted the best amusement park in the world for 17 years.

“I was hired as a crew member on the catering team,” Irvin said. “After I experience Cedar Point this summer and fall, I plan on traveling around the United States and Europe to get different experiences around different chefs and pastry chefs; however, about five years after graduation, my goal is to open up a local bakery.”

CAI has honed some natural talent that may serve her on the road to meeting that goal.

“In high school, I was the only tenth grader to compete in the FCCLA [Family, Career and Community Leaders of America] cake decorating competition,” she said. “I walked out with a bronze medal.  My junior and senior year, I also competed and won silver medals both years. Senior year in my culinary class, I was awarded highest GPA out of the seniors in my class.”

And as for evidence of enthusiasm, she was captain of cheerleading in high school for three out of her four years. “I was part of the tennis team, marching band, cheerleading squad, and track team throughout high school, as well as being an avid member of FCCLA and was secretary senior year.”

But her favorite accomplishment was winning a local “Chopped” competition in Pottstown.

“February 2013, a local restaurant named Grumpy’s came into my high school culinary class hosting a competition of ‘Chopped’ in the class. The sandwich my best friend and I developed came out on top,” she said. The duo was required to use an orange, marshmallows, walnuts, and a chicken.” The sandwich was so good, it was featured on Grumpy’s menu every Wednesday until the next winner was crowned.

“Winning that competition was the push I needed to know that I can do everything to put my mind to,” she said.

“One last thing,” Irvin said. “I am very grateful that I am not only walking out of this with a degree but lifelong friends and mentors as well.”


Culinary Arts Institute Honors its First Graduates


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The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College recently honored its first group of graduates since it opened in 2013. Back row, from left: Chef Tom Kreag, Tonya Moye, Marla Feder, Mallory Durrick, Liz Bevington, Chef Stephen Latona and Paul Becker. Front row, from left, Culinary Resource Specialist Cheryl Ann Niedzwiecki, Linda Ritz-Cioci, Hannah Irvin, Traci Zammetti, and CAI Director Chef Francine Marz. Photo by Sandi Yanisko.

The Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) of Montgomery County Community College recently honored the first graduates of the Culinary program since the College opened its new 15,000-square-foot facility in Lansdale in 2013.

The graduates include:  Jessica Apeldorn, Ardsley; Paul Becker, Abington; Liz Bevington, Hatfield; Mallory Durrick, North Wales; Marla Feder, Eagleville; Hannah Irvin, Pottstown; Tonya Moye, Harleysville; Linda Ritz-Cioci, Hatboro; Jackie Williams, Harleysville; Traci Ann Zammetti, Pottstown; and Laura Dougherty, Glenside .

“I am proud of you, your hard work and dedication to achieve your goals,” CAI Director Chef Francine Marz said, as she took a few moments to share words of congratulations and advice. “Continue to follow your passion, network with other professionals and look for opportunities. Remember what you learned here and use those skills to learn more.”

The graduates received their degrees and certificates during MCCC’s 48th Commencement ceremony on May 21 at Central Campus in Blue Bell. Several graduates have already started the next part of their journeys.

For 19-year-old Hannah Irvin, her associate’s degree in Baking and Pastry Arts takes her to Sandusky, Ohio, where she is working on the catering team at the top-rated Cedar Point Amusement Park.

“I absolutely loved the Culinary Arts Institute,” she said. “Everyone was so close and friendly. Now, I am leaving with a degree, great friends and wonderful mentors.”

Liz Bevington, 22, also described the CAI chefs as her mentors. “They taught me that it’s not just about cooking, but about your attitude and passion,” said Bevington, who is working full-time at El Poquito, a Mexican restaurant in Chestnut Hill.

Marla Feder, who earned certificates in Culinary and Baking & Pastry, plans to teach culinary classes. “The best decision I ever made was to come to CAI—I am living my dream,” she said.

Similarly, Traci Ann Zammetti is following her dream by starting her own business as a personal chef, “Food by TAZ.”  She created her own website, http://www.foodbytaz, and is growing her customer base.

“We are proud of all of our students and their accomplishments, but we wanted to recognize this first group, many of whom participated in our grand opening, followed by the opening of our student-operated retail bakery, Forty Foot Café, and our restaurant, Bistro 1400, as well as numerous community activities and events,” Chef Marz said. “Some of the graduates, like Marla, participated in our first annual Iron Chef Competition. It’s been an exciting time and we’re looking forward to welcoming our new students this fall.”

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Final Round of CAI Student Iron Chef Competition

Iron Chef finalists

Iron Chef Finalists:  Montgomery County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute’s students (from left) Can Uslu Sancar and Rolene Perumal won the Iron Chef Competition on April 25 competing against fellow students Paul Solarte and John Bucci. Photo by Sandi Yanisko. 

Although it was a broiling competition, the student chefs of the Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) of Montgomery County Community College cooked up several enticing dishes to impress the panel of esteemed judges and the crowd of visitors during the final round of the Iron Chef Competition held during the CAI’s recent Open House at 1400 Forty Foot Road, Lansdale, Towamencin Township, 19446.

Two teams of two students—Rolene Perumal, 28, of Glenside, and Can Uslu Sancar, 32, of North Wales, versus John Bucci, 25, of North Wales, and Paul Solarte, 22, of Allentown—used the techniques they learned at the CAI to execute three dishes in two hours using mystery ingredients, including Eggo waffles, celery root, red snapper, bacon, game hens, trail mix, corn tortillas, garbanzo beans, lemonhead candies and chai tea bags.

The judges were Executive Chef Tony Clark of Valley Forge Casino Resort, Drexel University’s Professor and Director of Culinary Arts and Food Science Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., Corporate Chef of Clemens Food Group Matthew Martino, MCCC President Dr. Karen A. Stout, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Vicki Bastecki-Perez and Dean of Business and Entrepreneurial Initiatives/Strategic Advisor Philip Needles. Judging criteria included taste, cooking techniques, texture/doneness, presentation, sanitation, fabrication, knife cuts, creativity and portion sizes.

While the students competed to win, they also gained invaluable skills through the experience.

“I’ve learned a lot since the first round in November, including flavor profiles and how they complement each other,” said Perumal, an international student from South Africa. “Additionally, we learned about the importance of teamwork and communication in the kitchen.”

“This was an amazing opportunity for us,” added Uslu Sancar, an international student from Istanbul, Turkey. “You get to learn about yourself, your strengths and your stress level.”

Perumal and Uslu Sancar won the competition and received an engraved trophy, the opportunity to stage with Chef Clark and kitchen tools. All four students were offered $5,000 Drexel University scholarships.

“This was a great learning experience,” said Bucci, who works as a chef at Bryn and Dane’s in Horsham. “The most challenging part for me was plating—after the food is prepared and cooked, it all comes down to the presentation.”

His partner, Solarte, enjoyed the competitiveness of the event. “It was fun and challenging,” he said.

The judges were pleased with the students’ professionalism and execution.

“I was very impressed,” said Chef Clark. “The two teams had different approaches, but the outcomes were good-tasting dishes. One team [Perumal and Uslu Sancar] worked very carefully, and the other was more avant garde in their approach.”

“I was really impressed with the students—they were professional and organized and willing to answer questions. I am thrilled to have all of them at Drexel,” Chef Deutsch said.

Similarly, Chef Martino was pleased with their execution.  “They worked well together and created well-seasoned, flavored dishes. All four have bright culinary careers ahead of them.”

Perumal and Uslu Sancar prepared three courses: chickpea salad with baby arugula and lemonhead vinaigrette, pan fried red snapper served with sautéed fennel and celeriac topped with a compound butter and a pan-seared Cornish game hen with dauphinoise and sautéed shallots and spinach.

Bucci and Solarte’s three courses were: chicken and waffles with bacon and berry crumble, red snapper with lemon sauce and spinach puree with a side of garbanzo beans and chicken enchiladas with onion puree.

“The Iron Chef Competition clearly demonstrated the high-quality of our program and our students,” said Francine Marz, Director of CAI. “The experience prepares students for the industry, their culinary careers and interviews, when they will be expected to use their creativity and skills to prepare dishes with very limited time constraints.”

The competition started with seven teams of two students each on Nov. 23, 2014. Four of those teams advanced to the second round of the competition held on Jan 31. The two winning teams competed on April 25. Each round became more challenging with additional mystery ingredients, fewer pantry ingredients and more requirements. The competition will be an annual event, according to Marz.

For more information about the Culinary Arts Institute and its degree and certificate programs, visit or call 267-646-5970.

Team 1 Competing

Team 1 Can Roulene

Team 1:  Students Can Uslu Sancar and Rolene Perumal prepared chickpea salad with baby arugula and lemonhead vinaigrette, pan fried red snapper served with sautéed fennel and celeriac topped with a compound butter and a pan-seared Cornish game hen with dauphinoise and sautéed shallots and spinach for the Iron Chef Competition at the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College, Lansdale. Photo by Sandi Yanisko.

Team 2 Planning Menu

Team 2 John and Paul

Team 2:  Student Paul Solarte and John Bucci prepared chicken and waffles with bacon and berry crumble, red snapper with lemon sauce and spinach puree with a side of garbanzo beans and chicken enchiladas with onion puree for the Iron Chef Competition at the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College, Lansdale. Photo by Sandi Yanisko.

About the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College

The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College is the region’s home for innovative, affordable culinary arts education and training. The Culinary Arts program includes both associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit culinary enthusiast and professional development course offerings. The Culinary Arts Instituted opened its doors in 2013 at 1400 Forty Foot Road, Lansdale, in Towamencin Township, where it is conveniently located near the Blue Route (I-476) and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The new facility features four state-of-the-art kitchens and equipment and three SMART classrooms, as well as a retail café/bakeshop and bistro restaurant, where students can develop real-world food preparation and customer service skills. For more information about the Culinary Arts Institute, call 267-646-5970 or visit

You can find The Culinary Arts Institute on Facebook and on Twitter.




CAI’s Top Chef Hosts Radio Show ‘Food for Thought’


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The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College’s Director Chef Francine Marz recently added another item to her menu of skills: radio show host.

Starting March 2, Chef Marz took to the airwaves of the College’s student-operated Francine Marz Headshot smallInternet radio station, Montco Radio, with her new interactive show, “Food for Thought.” On alternating Mondays between 5 to 6 p.m. you can check in and hear Chef Marz talk about all things food, from how to make a tasty dinner with five ingredients to what it takes to become a sous chef and more.

Her next show airs today, April 13, and she will be chatting about international foods, interviewing an international student and sharing her experiences from her visit to Wuhan, China, in September 2014 for the 15th Annual Chinese Food Festival and International Gourmet Expo. Her next show is scheduled for April 27.

Since the show is interactive, anyone can call or message during the broadcast to ask questions or make comments. Call 215-619-7366, tweet questions or comments to @CAIofMC3 or message on Facebook at CAIofMC3.

To listen to the show on Montco Radio, visit MCCC’s web site,, and click on the microphone icon at the bottom of the homepage screen. Or, simply download the Tune-In app on your mobile devices or search “Montco Radio” in Google Play for the new Android app.

For more information about MCCC’s Culinary Arts Institute, visit our website at  or call us at 267-646-5970.




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MCCC’s Culinary Arts Graduate Accepted into Disney Culinary Program

Jackie Williams cake

By Neree Aron-Sando

After Jackie Williams, 22, graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute (CAI) of Montgomery County Community College in December 2014, she headed to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” following in the footsteps of CAI Director Chef Francine Marz.

“During my first year as a pastry student, Chef Marz brought the Disney Culinary Program [DCP] to my attention. I thought the idea was awesome, considering Disney World is my favorite place,” Williams explained.

After an intensive application and interview process, Williams was accepted into the program. “I chose to accept the offer for many reasons. First, why not? It is such a recognizable and outstanding company. Everyone knows who Disney is, and if they see that on your resume, you can get pretty far.”

The program runs from January until June. “I will not only be working at The Art of Animation Resort, but I will also being taking two seminar classes: Guest Services and Leadership Skills. When those classes are finished, I will receive completion certificates,” Williams said.

“Jackie is such a kind-hearted, fun-loving and energetic person. I’m so happy that she got accepted into the program,” Chef Marz said. “I know Disney is the perfect place for her. We are all so very proud of her!”

Williams’s acceptance into DCP is an honor for the Harleysville woman, but it also reflects very well on CAI. “This puts CAI on the same playing field as the larger, more prestigious culinary schools and lets everyone know that we have the same if not better quality student than the other schools,” Marz said. “This is a game changer for us because Walt Disney World, one of the most admired companies in the world, has seen what our students are capable of and likes what we are doing so much that they are now investing in our students.”

Marz participated in DCP herself almost 20 years ago. “It was one of the best experiences I ever had,” she said. “It changed my life, and I’m so happy that Jackie has paved the way for other students from CAI to work for Disney. It’s just now a matter of time before the secret is out and people know that the students of The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College are getting the same wonderful opportunities they get at the larger culinary schools but for a lot lower tuition!

Williams earned an Associate’s Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts at CAI in December 2014.

“I chose Montgomery County Community College because it was close to home and convenient to work and because of cost—almost half of what culinary students pay to go to some other culinary schools, but you receive the same amazing education and skills from the top chefs all over the world. The chefs really take the time to work with you one on one and that makes a great difference.”

Williams is keeping her options open. “As of right now, I have no concrete plans for the future. I am enjoying the Disney College Program and hopefully when I am finished, doors will open for me and I can take my future from there,” she said.

“One more thing: I owe everything to Chef Marz and to all the other chefs and instructors who helped me through my journey at The Culinary Arts Institute. They are the reason why I had the opportunity to pursue The Disney College Program. Everyone at CAI is incredible and I am incredibly honored to say that I got to work with such amazing chefs.”

Iron Chef Competition – Round 2 – Jan. 31, 2015

Four teams advanced to the second round of CAI’s challenging Iron Chef Competition held on Jan. 31, 2015, at the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College. For this round, the aspiring student chefs needed to rapidly develop dish ideas as they unveiled the mystery ingredients and raced the clock. It was all about taste, presentation, neatness and creativity. The teams included Marla Feder and Agatha Kriebel, Myke Eggers and Paul Smith, Rolene Perumal and Can Uslu Sancar, and John Bucci and Paul Solarte. After a grueling round, the judges selected Rolene Perumal and Can Uslu Sancar and John Bucci and Paul Solarte to advance to the final round on April 25, during the Culinary Arts Institute’s open house. Stop by, visit CAI’s beautiful facility and find out who will win CAI’s Iron Chef Competition. Photos by Sandi Yanisko.

The First Round of CAI’s Iron Chef Competition

The heat was on as seven teams of students competed against each other in the first round of the Culinary Arts Institute’s Iron Chef Competition on Sunday, November 23.

Participants included Mike Eggers and Paul Smith (Team 1), Paul Solarte and John Bucci (Team 2), Marla Feder and Agatha Kreibel (Team 3), Mike Smith and Debra Stannard (Team 4), Kimberly Garcia and James Chun (Team 5), Anna Keller and DaShawn Anderson-Mabry (Team 6) and Can Usla and Rolene Perumal (Team 7).

Watch this video clip of the fierce kitchen competition:

CAI Chefs judged the final dishes and points were awarded based on taste, texture/doneness, cooking technique, presentation, creativity, use of mystery items, sanitation of work stations and appropriate portions. Each team was required to use two proteins, as well as a variety of items available in the mystery basket, which included celery, red beets, squash, peppers, oranges and onions.

As the competition got underway, the students focused their energies on gathering ingredients and making plans for their dishes. With the clock ticking on, the pace and energy picked up, and the sounds of chopping and sautéing filled the room. Soon, too soon for some, the final moment arrived and the plates were presented to the judges.

After tasting and deliberation, the judges selected Teams 1, 2, 3 and 7 to move to the second round of the competition. Each participating team received a choice of textbook, apron and CAI mug.

Chef Francine Marz shared words of advice from the judges:  “Use the right tools for the job; if you’re not using something, put it away; stay organize; watch the heat and wipe down your work spaces.”

The competition continues with Round 2 on Saturday, January 31! Check back for the results, photos and video!

Student’s Journey to the Forty Foot Cafe

Hello, my name is Jennifer Rejniak, and I am currently a second year student here at the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College (CAI). I was chosen as the 2014 J. Alexander and Alma Jacobs scholarship recipient, and I would like to convey my deepest and sincerest gratitude for this honor.


My decision to enroll at the CAI turned into the GREATEST decision of my life. I am 38 years old and this is my second time enrolled in college. Prior to attending the CAI, I was a park ranger for Montgomery County Parks and Heritage Services for 10 years. It was a career that many people would love and enjoy, which I did, but it wasn’t my true calling. On July 22, 2012, everything in my life that I had known changed in a blink of an eye. On my way to work, I was involved in a car accident that left me severely injured. My doctors and physical therapist had suggested that it was time to resign my position as a park ranger since it was a very physically demanding job. This was one of the lowest points in my life. I had been a ranger for so long that it was my way of life.

However, while I was incapacitated, the one happy thought that kept my mind at ease and continued to surface time and time again was that I was being given a second chance to finally follow my dreams, and to take the passion that has been in my heart for so long and make it my reality. I wanted to study, learn and work hard to become a chef. As long as I can remember, I have loved to cook and create dishes that made my family and friends happy and comforted.

I worked hard to physically recover, and after much research, I excitedly enrolled for the fall 2013 semester at the Culinary Arts Institute. I never felt like I belonged anywhere until I walked through these doors. It was a tough struggle to get here but meeting my fellow classmates and hearing their hopes, fears, and dreams, solidified everything that I was feeling. We are all here to pursue our passion and love affair with the culinary arts. Being a part of the inaugural class to step foot inside this beautiful facility has opened my eyes to the fact that I am a part of something very special. The original 115 students that adorned themselves with their chef’s caps and aprons last fall became a part of this school’s history.

When we learned the Forty Foot Cafe was going to be operational this semester and our Retail Service and Operations class was spearheading the endeavor, a great sense of pride washed across us all. We wanted to set a precedence for future students. The opening of the new cafe is a symbol of our hard work, creativity and dedication to culinary arts. It is a direct reflection of our education and the skills we have learned from these amazing chefs, who we are lucky enough to have as not only teachers but mentors.

Food Through The Decades

Montgomery County Community College

‘Food through the Decades’ Exhibit

An exhibition highlighting food trends, popular recipes and top chefs of the last five decades 


           On October 6th, an opening reception took place for the Food Through The Decades exhibit located at the Brendlinger Library on the main floor of College Hall at the Central Campus of Montgomery County Community College. Mrs. Joan Levanios donated a portion of the extensive cooking library of her late husband, Michael Levanios, Jr. to the Culinary Arts Institute (CAI). The collection includes thousands of magazines—Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Saveur, as well as others—and cookbooks spanning more than five decades. This collection illustrates the trends and fads in food and food preparation. Librarian Lianne Hartman created the display and it will be open to the public until November 3rd.

 While motion picture producer/director Michael Levanios, Jr., had a long, successful career creating films, he also had a passion for cooking. According to his wife Joan, he would usually take three days to prepare for a meal—planning the menu, shopping for the ingredients and then coordinating the timing and execution of each dish. With his filmmaking business, Montage Productions (based in Philadelphia), he traveled worldwide, ate in some of the finest restaurants, worked with several famous chefs and developed a deep appreciation for fine cuisine.2014-10-06FoodthruAges-5

            The reception highlighted the exhibit with foods from the decades such as Chicken Satay, Rice Krispie Treats, Bruschetta, California rolls and chocolate fondue with pound cake, fruit, and pretzels. Tang was the beverage served as it has an iconic role in timeline of American food and beverage. Chef Francine Marz, Director of the Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College spoke about this exhibit and recognized Mrs. Levanios who was in attendance.

 – Taken from the Food through the Decades Media Advisory by Diane Van Dyke, Public Relations Coordinator, Communications and Marketing of Montgomery County Community College

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