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Washburne Culinary Students Ready to Make Their Mark on Chicago Food Scene

ENGLEWOOD — Graduation for 39 Washburne Culinary Institute students is Friday, and Marvin McDaniel said he can't wait to start his career.

"I want to be the next Martha Stewart. I plan on designing my own cooking equipment, clothes and, of course, fantastic meals from frozen to freshly made ones," said the ambitious 26-year-old single father of one daughter.

"I have been cooking since I was 6. I love to cook, from soul food to Italian. You name it and I can cook it."

The day after he graduates, McDaniel said he will be cooking at a food show Saturday at 2853 N. Kedzie Ave.

"Ever since my mother showed me how to make cornbread from scratch, I have wanted to be a chef, and now my dream is finally coming true," said the Roseland resident, who began his culinary education at Washburne in 2011.

Washburne, which is part of Kennedy-King College, does more than crank out graduates like McDaniel each year. It also runs Sikia, a sit-down restaurant open for lunch to the public from 11 am. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays during the school year.

For $7 customers get a three-course buffet lunch, said Kristopher Murray, executive director of Washburne.

"A person would be hard pressed to find a sit-down restaurant in Englewood that offers a three-course meal for only $7," said Murray, who is also a chef.

The menu changes every two weeks, and often includes items such as fried chicken, baked fish, salad, various types of rice, pot roast, turkey and ham sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and desserts, Murray said.

It sees as many as 40 customers a day, and often more on Fridays.

"I guess Fridays are busy because people have the flexibility to have extended lunch hours on that day," added Murray. "The entire staff at Sikia is made up of students but you couldn't tell based on the level of service rendered and quality of food prepared."

Valuable skills acquired at Washburne are what Ashley Adams, 26, said would carry her into a prosperous career upon graduation this week.

"The skills I learned here will last me a lifetime. I plan on opening up my own catering service after I get more experience as a chef," said Adams, who lives in South Shore.

"Currently I work at a fast-food restaurant and there's a big difference cooking there and here (Sikia). Here I get to season my meats more, and at a lot of fast-food restaurants meats are delivered already seasoned and ready to cook. Yes, this Friday will be a great day for me."

An aunt inspired Adams to pursue a career as a chef and not as a psychiatrist, which is what Adams originally wanted to become.

"I think I made the right choice when I decided to become a chef. Experimenting with food is what I enjoy doing, even though I do not eat red meat or pork anymore," Adams said.

Gloria Zepeda, 22, said she's wanted to be a chef since she was a student at Roberto Clemente Community Academy High School. Now she is looking forward to opening her own restaurant featuring American and Mexican cuisine.

"At Clemente there is a culinary program and that is where my interest in cooking developed," recalled Zepeda, who travels from her home in the Logan Square neighborhood on the North Side to attend Washburne in Englewood. "I looked around after high school and Washburne offered the best culinary education in the city."