Three students from the Greene County Career and Technology Center’s culinary arts program brought home two golds and a silver from the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Conference (FCCLA) in Nashville, Tenn.
The experience was rounded out with a plane ride, a trip to the Grand Ole Opry and the opportunity to meet recording artist Jimmy Wayne. Wayne has a Greene County connection with his hit song, “Do You Believe Me Now,” co-written by Rices Landing native Dave Pahanish and Joe West.
The girls earned the right to compete at the national conference July 7-11 at the Marriott Gaylord Opryland Convention Center by placing at the FCCLA State Leadership Conference at Seven Springs Resort and Conference Center in March.
Michaela Milliken, who will be a junior at Jefferson-Morgan High School, was a gold- medal winner who competed in portfolio and interview. She called the entire Nashville experience “amazing.”
“I was very nervous. It was a different setting from states. There were three judges at one table, and you could sit down and just have a conversation with them,” Milliken said. “At nationals, there were 12 tables in one room with interviews going on all over the room at the same time.”
Milliken said she had 20 minutes to look over her portfolio before her turn arrived. But she didn’t have the same comfortable feeling she had at states when she realized that two table lengths would separate her from the panel of judges.
It was then that being in Nashville helped the young country music fan.
“It may sound silly, but I sang a little bit to relax,” she said.
It apparently worked like a charm. Milliken not only took top honors in her category, but she also did it with a nearperfect score. She has already started to think of ways to get 100 percent next year.
“Whenever I got out of there, I thought I should have grabbed my chair and asked to move it closer,” she said. “There were 80 people going for the same thing I was going for. There were all of these people coming out saying, ‘I tanked it.’”
She said she began to think, “Please, at least give me a silver, but then they called all of the names for bronze so I thought, ‘good, I have it.’ Then they called all of the names for silver. When they called my name for gold I didn’t move for like two minutes,” she said.
Also taking the gold was Megan Marietta, who will be a senior at Carmichaels Area High School, for her original food product, Bits of Crunch. Giving her presentation was only one part of the trip that Marietta was nervous about.
“It was my first time on a plane,” she said. “So, I was a little scared, but once we got up in the air and I saw the view and stuff, I was OK.”
Marietta went all out for her category, wearing a Bits of Crunch T-shirt, playing a radio commercial for her product and even displaying a mocked-up box for it.
Bits of Crunch was inspired by Marietta’s grandmother, Barb Smith, who told her there weren’t many products with strawberry and kiwi in them. Smith liked both flavors together, and Marietta thought it was a good starting point for her new snack product.
She began work on the recipe in September. After multiple taste tests and adjustments, she had the final recipe. Next, she developed a marketing strategy that included her knowledge of food science, nutrition and food preparation safety. It all was wrapped into a 15-minute presentation that paved the way to Tennessee.
The third student making the trip was Gillian Alexander, a junior at Jefferson-Morgan High School this fall, who brought home silver for entrepreneurship. Alexander won with her business plan for Gillian’s Gourmet Quiches, a specialty restaurant concept.
In her 72-slide presentation, she tackled every detail, from zoning regulations to market feasibility.
“It’s fun to watch their faces when they get on an airplane for the first time and get to do something of this magnitude,” said Dan Wagner, culinary arts insructor at the Greene County Career andTechnology Center. Both he and the students gave credit to the CTC administration for encouraging and believing in the benefits of professional conferences and trips such as this one.
“This is what I want to do with my life,” said Milliken. “Culinary is my life. I am so thankful for the CTC. They give you that opportunity to see where you want to go in life.”
Embarking on the trip, Wagner said he knew these girls had the professionalism and maturity to do well at the national level. All three were part of the culinary arts team that worked the Kentucky Bluegrass Ball at the 57th Presidential Inauguration in January, so he had seen them in a pressure situation.
When there was time to relax, the girls attended various workshops with the rest of the 5,000-plus competitors from across the United States. Leadership and educational workshops, covering topics such as texting and driving, also were offered.
There wasn’t much time to be out and about in Nashville, but when they were, the girls made the most of it. They, along with Wagner and chaperone Freddie Riggen, attendance officer at the CTC, attended the Grand Ole Opry, where they not only met Wayne, but also got to hear top-selling artist Carrie Underwood.
A trip to a live music club turned into an opportunity for Milliken to take the stage.
“I love country music, and I got to sing a song at the Nashville Palace,” she said excitedly.
The house band’s repertoire was mostly classic country songs, according to Riggen. Milliken said it wasn’t easy finding a song that she knew for them to accompany her. In the end, she sang a duet with one of the band members on “My Girl.”
“I always, always wanted to go down to Nashville, so that was exciting,” Milliken said.