POLAHS Travel Diaries #1: Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales

The University offers summer intensives for high school students in the fields of culinary arts, baking, and hospitality at its Denver campus. Through scholarship support from a POLAHS donor, four students attended the three-day long culinary program this summer. Students stayed on campus, met faculty and students, and immersed themselves in health, food science, and food production, alongside renowned chefs! The experience allowed students to expand their palates, while exploring their creativity and attention to detail. Ultimately, the students learned lifelong skills that will carry them from school, to work, and home!




Yani (Mary) Suarez, grade 12: Enjoys swimming and Civil Air Patrol Cadet


Vincenzo Russo, grade 12: GPA of 3.8; loves to bake and cook; POLAHS Student Council; volunteer at Harbor-UCLA General Hospital in Torrance

Alena De Leon, grade X: Hospital Volunteer and Varsity Cheerleading

Jennifer Solorio, grade X: 3.6 GPA, participates in Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA)


  1. Why did you want to attend the Johnson & Wales Culinary Program?


My mom and I would always bond while cooking meals. Whether it was spicy, savory, or sweet, we would enjoy doing the process and the company of each other. None of us would want to miss dinner because that would be the time where we could sit down and talk and enjoy the food. My dad also taught us how to make the recipes of my grandmother, like her famous pancit, which is a common Filipino dish, and her delicious biko - which is also a famous Filipino dessert. While my sisters I enjoy looking at food magazines like Bon Appetit and try doing the recipes ourselves. Now that my family lives apart from each other, I would cook to feel like home again. I was excited about this three-day program where I could learn all of the basics and proper techniques. Yani (Mary) Suarez


For example, about a month ago I baked and decorated a two-tier, circus-themed, animal cake for a birthday party. This cake took many hard and frustrating hours to complete, but I still rolled all of the fondants, sculpted an elephant, a monkey, a tiger, and many other details that were super tedious. No matter how or time-consuming, I still completed the task because I have always loved to help cook and bake with my family ever since I remember, but when I turned eight this is when baking became a real hobby for me. Baking and cooking helps put your mind at ease when you are stressed. I wanted to attend the Culinary arts program at the Johnson and Wales University located in Colorado, because I wanted to grow within the culinary community. I wanted to widen my scope of knowledge within culinary arts. Vincenzo Russo

The reason why I wanted to attend the culinary program was because cooking is such a big part of my life. Everyone in my family knows how to cook and if I ever needed my mom or my dad, I can always find them in the kitchen, cooking or experimenting new meals to whip up for the family. What sparked my interest about the culinary program was my grandma, the kitchen was her favorite place in the house. When I was little, I would come over to her house after school and I’d always find her in the kitchen cooking me some traditional Filipino dishes like Bangus (milkfish) with rice and patis (fish sauce). As I observed overtime, watching my grandma cook, I could tell that cooking was one of her passions and I saw that same passion in my mom. I never got to cook with my grandma as she passed away, so I thought I would attend this culinary program in honor of her. I wanted to learn how to cook because I was taught that cooking is an important skill to have in life. I want to be able to connect to my heritage through food and pass that same passion to my children and the rest of my lifeline. Alena De Leon

As a kid my mom always emphasized how important it is to eat healthy. I can say my love and inspiration for cooking started here, watching my mom care for us and prepare our favorite meals to award us when we did well in school or to help us feel better when we were sick encouraged me to get into the kitchen. One of my biggest dreams for the future has been to open up a small business, more specifically a restaurant where a variety of different foods are served. I knew this program would help me because it would be the first professional exposure I would get to culinary arts.  I also really liked the idea of going out of state since I had never traveled on my own. Jennifer Solorio 


  1. Tell us about some of the skills you learned through the program.


A skill I learned from the program was to be patient. When we were practicing our cutting skills, I had trouble at first because I had never been so precise with cutting vegetables. The more I practiced, the nicer my cuts became! Jennifer Solorio 


I learned how to make a cake. I learned the tricks on how to keep the cake moist and how to properly assemble the cake. They taught us how to make the icing, and the little flowers to decorate the cake. I also learned how to make bread like baguettes and challahs. Yani (Mary) Suarez


We learned to make homemade pastas, gnocchi, tomato sauce, meatballs, and many other wonderful items to complete the dish. On the travel side, we learned time management. We had to make sure we weren’t late to any classes or even to the airport. Vincenzo Russo

The chef who was teaching us, Chef Stella Bernard, taught me that if you don’t go after what you want in the kitchen, you’re going to be stuck cutting vegetables. How I interpreted that was - if I don’t go after what I want in life, then I'm going to be in a stagnant position. I want to live a life full of joy and adventure. I want to experience what life has to offer. Nothing in life comes handed to you, you have to go out and get it. Alena De Leon


  1. Did anything not go as planned while traveling? How did you handle it?


On the last day of the trip at the burger showdown (which was basically a competition of around 10 teams), we made burgers for the judges. My team ended up getting first place, and we each received a golden spatula! When I passed TSA, they said that my spatula award was considered a weapon! Luckily my friend checked it in her bag. Jennifer Solorio 

Everything for the most part went as planned! The only hiccup within traveling was with the plane ride back. The plane was delayed about 45 minutes. We had to wait at the airport for a total of around 6 hours. Vincenzo Russo

I felt nauseous when we landed at the airport. I think it was because of the altitude and my lack of sleep. I was too excited for the trip and I only slept for about 3 hours. I drank lots of water and felt okay the next day. Yani (Mary) Suarez


  1. Was this your first time traveling alone?


I travelled alone when I went to Dubai, Moscow, and on my way to the United States from the Philippines. Yani (Mary) Suarez


This trip was the first time traveling without my parents, but I was lucky enough to be able to travel with three others from POLAHS, so it was not as much of a shock as it would have been if I were to go alone. Vincenzo Russo


- This was my first time traveling alone. I'm glad I got to travel with a few of my classmates, who I now call my friends. This trip brought us closer together,  and created a bond that I will never forget. Alena De Leon


  1. What was your favorite dish that you made? What new skills did you learn?


My favorite was the baguettes, because they were so crunchy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. I did not like the cake that I made; it did not taste the best. Although, at home I am going to improve that skill and I am going to use my skills in making bread. Yani (Mary) Suarez


Gnocchi was my favorite; it’s an authentic Italian potato-based pasta. It takes a lot of work from beginning to end by roasting potatoes, kneading the dough, making sure there is enough spices within the dough to make it taste good. Vincenzo Russo

I enjoyed making Italian meatballs because they tasted very different from the ones I've had before. I think the skill I will use from now on is my cutting skills - we learned new ways of cutting that made our dishes look more presentable. Jennifer Solorio 


My favorite dish was the Italian meatballs; they were so packed with flavor. They went great with the fettuccine and gnocchi pastas for dinner. At the program, we were taught different techniques to cut onions and potatoes. Alena De Leon

  1. Did you meet new friends on the trip?


 YES! The people on the trip were really fun to be around and super welcoming to us Californians. The staff and other students were inclusive even though there were different programs within the same trip (culinary, baking/ pastries, and hospitality). Everyone came together and we were united as one. Vincenzo Russo

I mostly stayed with the people I already knew from POLAHS, but I did get closer to them. I feel like we became really close friends since we went on this journey together and I really don't think I would have had better company than with them. They made the whole trip really fun and I felt like we were a family. Jennifer Solorio 


  1. Is there anything that you would like to say to your trip donors?


I’d like to thank my donor for giving me the opportunity to go on this trip. I had an amazing time, and I really enjoyed traveling for the first time without my family. I also got to experience what it is like to be at a UC. Jennifer Solorio 


- I want to thank my donor for giving me the opportunity to discover more into my passion for cooking. Without her funding for my trip, I wouldn't have discovered how much cooking means to me. I was able to discover that my family's passion for cooking will never end, and I am the one who is going to continue that passion for many years to come. Alena De Leon

  I would love to thank the donors for giving us an opportunity to grow within our passion of cooking and baking. This trip really opened my eyes to see how much there is involved with creating dishes that will be served to many people. On one of the days we, as the students, cooked dinner for the entire program, so we were able to see how much pressure is on the chef to make sure all of the food is ready on time, as well as being hot! Vincenzo Russo

I would like to say thank you so much for this incredible opportunity. I learned so many new and interesting things (like how altitude could actually affect your cooking). The skills and knowledge that I gained in this trip was all because of them and I am very thankful for that. The trip also gave me new friends and memories that I would remember forever. Yani (Mary) Suarez