//Wiregrass culinary graduate overcomes pandemic setbacks

Wiregrass culinary graduate overcomes pandemic setbacks

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Wiregrass Culinary Arts Graduate Bringing Unique Fusion of Flavors to Valdosta

Valdosta, Ga— Everyone remembers where they were when the COVID-19 virus shut down our schools and businesses.  Wiregrass Georgia Technical College Culinary Arts graduate, Heidi Shelley, was standing on the hotel steps in Atlanta getting ready to check in for State SkillsUSA competition.  The college SkillsUSA team had just arrived in Atlanta ready to begin the weekend long competition with students competing against other colleges from around the state showcasing their skill sets when they got to the call to come back home. Heidi and team were sent back to South Georgia after hours, weeks, and months preparing, studying, practicing and perfecting their skill set. 

Having graduated from Wiregrass in December 2019, she was able to compete with SkillsUSA as graduates can compete up to two years after graduation.  Heidi earned her associate’s degree and diploma in Culinary Arts Degree as well as certificates in Catering Specialist and Food Production Worker 1.  She was working three jobs serving under area chefs in Valdosta and was a baker at a local bakery.  As businesses including restaurants were shut down, Heidi found herself down to one job, at the bakery. While thankful for her part-time job, because her jobs were part time employment she was   ineligible for unemployment.  “It was rough, I was so excited to get started pursuing my career as a Chef, and then a pandemic hit,” shared Heidi.  Years prior to enrolling at Wiregrass she worked in the restaurant business, but never had any formal education, which lead her to enroll at Wiregrass.  “Even though I had years of restaurant experience, I lacked the training necessary to take what I love to the next level,” shared Heidi. “The quality of the education and training I received at Wiregrass was invaluable.  I learned how to market my food through skills like food photography I was able to learn many different techniques including French cuisine, with which I was unfamiliar.”

 Her job at the bakery helped keep her afloat financially and helped perfect her pastry skills.  “I was looking hard for a job as a chef when all the restaurants were ordered to shut down,” shared Heidi.  Then as businesses began to reopen a friend contacted her and offered her a job to help out in the kitchen part of a new business called Billiards on Baytree.  Once they realized what type of food Heidi could offer, they gave her full reign of the kitchen and as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.” Being from South Georgia, and of Scandinavian descent, I was able to provide a menu that was a fusion of these two along with the French techniques I learned while at Wiregrass.  The menu at Billiards on Baytree brings a unique offering to Valdosta and has been getting excellent reviews.  I am grateful for the help I received from my instructors Chef Mitchell Pitts, and Chef Hunter Wills. They helped me with planning out the menu and provided me connections with other Chefs in Valdosta, who have been a huge resource of help to me,” shared Heidi.

With restrictions and new ways of doing life emerging from the pandemic, Heidi once again has her eyes set on SkillsUSA State Competition in March.  “This is my last year of eligibility for SkillsUSA,” she shared.  “I am competing in baking and super excited to showcase my skills in this area.”  The competition will be held virtually with judges who are experts in the field observing her.  “I’m hoping to bring home gold for the college and my community!” she shared. 

When talking with Heidi you can’t help but feel her energy and passion for what she loves to do. She was able to take her passion for cooking and pursue a career by obtaining her degree and formal education from Wiregrass.  Now, she is pouring her heart and soul into a culinary experience at Billiards on Baytree that are leaving folks hungry for more.  To learn more about the Culinary Arts program at Wiregrass visit the college’s website at Wiregrass.edu.  The program is accepting new students for Summer and Fall Semester.  The college will be holding Free Application Week March 22-26 for those seeking to enroll for Summer or Fall classes.