Jaclyn Adamonis with some of the knives in her personal collection, including one Shunn, a Japanese knife she calls her "most prized possession." | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
There’s nothing to fear if Jaclyn Adamonis, 20, of Homewood, is wielding a knife in your presence.
As the American Culinary Federation Student of the Year for 2013, she’s likely to use her knives to produce a pleasant surprise.
Nevertheless, the recent Joliet Junior College Culinary Arts Program graduate said her skills in the kitchen didn’t keep her from an awkward moment when she was announced as the winner at the recent federation competition in Las Vegas.
“About 10 minutes after I won, I dropped my gold medal into my dessert, so there was chocolate everywhere,” Adamonis said.
Adamonis said she was “absolutely shocked” when she heard her name called.
“I did not think at all that I deserved to win,” Adamonis said.
A “couple slip-ups” and three skilled opponents had her convinced the title would not be hers.
The judges didn’t agree with Adamonis, saying that her “proteins were cooked perfectly.”
Although she was elated to win, she said her main concern was that her boyfriend, Jake Bernard, 26, would not make it back to her table in time for the announcement. He was on stage accepting his award as a member of a team of five JJC culinary students who won the National Champion AFC 2013 Student Hot Food Team award.
“I just wanted him there for the support,” Adamonis said. “That was the only thought that went through my head beforehand.”
Waiting for the judges’ decision was the hardest part, Adamonis said. The easy part of the competition was cooking, something that has been in her blood since she was a little girl.
Adamonis remembers her “favorite thing to do” as a child was going to her parents’ restaurant, Dave’s Kitchen, in Homewood, doing schoolwork at the “homework booth in the back” or prep work in the kitchen.
Adamonis and her two sisters would remove the seeds from green peppers before their dad prepared them for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
“I’ve always been cooking. My whole family basically cooks,” Adamonis said.
She credits family values which dictate that everyone who is home in the evening cook and eat together at a sit-down dinner in their Homewood home.
Food is an important part of her life and she credits her Italian and Hispanic genes for influencing her favorite cooking choices.
Adamonis didn’t have the luxury of choosing her favorite foods for the competition. The requirements were to produce an appetizer and an entree using a basket of more than a dozen required ingredients which were revealed to contestants after they won regional competitions in April.
Adamonis chose a red snapper for her appetizer and rabbit for her entree. She was required to cook everything in a two-hour time frame “with a 10-minute window for plating.”
Adamonis said it was a bit intense, but not impossible after three months of continual practice at JJC’s Renaissance Center, “at least twice a week.”
Her goal to make the actual preparation second nature during the competition was inspired by Tim Bucci, JJC instructor and competition coach, who always told the students, “When it comes down to competition, it’s 80 percent mental.”
“It’s focusing, getting your head in the game,” Adamonis said. “It’s you and the food and nothing else.”
The end result left Adamonis with “a couple of offers” in the Chicago area, her preferred area for employment “for the time being.”
Adamonis feels good about her opportunities as a female in what was once a male-dominated field.
“I’ve known that I wanted to do this for a long time.” Adamonis said. “Girls are coming up. They’re getting feisty.”