Food is enjoyed around the world, with all cultures having their own unique take on popular dishes. Career opportunities abound around the world, and College of Lake County (CLC) alumna, Hospitality and Culinary Management Jocy Flores, took advantage of them early in her fledgling career.
When Flores first joined CLC in 2015, it wasn’t her plan to take cooking classes. And that despite the fact that her father owned a restaurant in Round Lake. She even worked on it.
“I was an arts major,” Flores said. “I was looking for classes for my Gen Eds, and when I read the class descriptions for the cooking classes, I liked their sense of community.”
For Flores, it meant either taking a year off school or enrolling in CLC. She hadn’t planned on going to college during high school, and she says she was lucky to find something to get excited about.
She started out as a dishwasher at the restaurant but worked her way up to become a chef. In the process, she picked up some technical skills that stood her in good stead when she started taking cooking classes.
“I was totally in love,” Flores said. “We had to learn everything, starting with the basics. It was a new world for me and the teachers were so detailed with everything.”
One of Flores’ favorite aspects of teaching was the structure of the courses. They follow a natural progression, starting with the basics in Culinary I through to proteins and more expensive items in Culinary III.
A student in the culinary program can follow either the culinary route or the pastry route as a focus.
As part of the program, students also work at CLC’s student-run Prairie Restaurant, cooking quality food and running a real restaurant. Prairie will soon be relocating south of the Grayslake campus to the Brae Loch Golf Club facility thanks to a partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves. This location has a greater public presence on Route 45 and will bring more traffic for students to gain additional experience.
After graduating in 2017, Flores quickly began the first of her international experiences. She took a two week trip to Lima, Peru where she learned about cooking Peruvian cuisine.
Flores then worked at a restaurant called Trace in Libertyville for a year before it closed and an opportunity arose for a CLC graduate to go to Italy. There she took restaurant courses from day one and, after completing a menu, went straight to work in the restaurant.
“CLC helped me build connections,” Flores said. “It’s important to keep them open because you never know who you might have to go to later for help.”
Despite having a culinary major at CLC, Flores accidentally enrolled in the pastry program in Italy. Her former CLC teachers helped persuade her to do the pastry program, especially since she was the only one who signed up for it.
“I’ve always strived to be like my teachers,” she said. “I knew they were capable of doing something like that and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to represent CLC.”
In addition to restaurant work in Italy, Flores was chosen to be part of a group to cook at the James Beard House in New York. Each year, the James Beard Foundation hosts over 200 dinners featuring renowned chefs. The foundation’s mission is to celebrate, encourage, and honor chefs and other leaders who are making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for all.
After this experience, Flores wanted to learn more about Italian cuisine. American Italian food is very different, she said, so she took another opportunity in Italy and worked as a cook in an assisted living community. She was promoted to dining director within six months.
In all, Flores made four educational trips to Italy in two years, each time learning more and gaining experience that she now uses as a chef in the United States.
Flores currently works at an assisted living facility in Tampa, having started at the company’s Glenview location in 2020. She also tours the region introducing residents and community members to cooking techniques in assisted living.
“Jocy is a wonderful, dedicated student with a drive to succeed,” said cooking instructor William Vena. “Every day she walks into the kitchen she is extremely passionate and dependable. Jocy is on course to become one of America’s brightest future chefs, wherever she ends up. In my eyes, she is a true all-star.”