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Academy of Culinary Arts Graduates Encouraged to be Inventive, Challenge Themselves and Strive for Success at Annual Awards Ceremony

05/16/2024 | Media Contact: David Zuba, Public Relations Manager and Copywriter | (609) 343-4933
Academy of Culinary Arts graduates celebrate together

MAYS LANDING — For the 44 culinary and baking & pastry graduates of Atlantic Cape Community College’s Academy of Culinary Arts (ACA), the journey started two years ago with the basic practicing of knife skills, making dead dough and learning the many time-honored traditions of the profession. Those long days and nights of work and study culminated on May 15 with the 42nd Annual ACA Awards Ceremony in the Walter E. Edge Theater on the Mays Landing campus.

Academy of Culinary Arts staff members“We are celebrating what is hopefully one of many milestones in the lives and careers of the students over my shoulder,” said Academy of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Director Joseph Sheridan. “This is a combination of years of hard work, perseverance and a passion for the culinary arts, and today’s ceremony is a symbol of their commitment and dedication to their craft.”

In all, 34 ACA students earned their Associate in Applied Science in Culinary Arts while 10 earned their Associate in Applied Science with a Baking & Pastry option. During their time with the ACA, these graduates poured through dozens of cookbooks, demonstrated their learned culinary and baking skills for visiting high school students, helped serve meals at the student-run gourmet restaurant Carême’s, competed with and against each other in contests such as Iron Student Chef and Wings Wars competitions, and worked together to make the annual Restaurant Gala the tremendous success that it is year-in and year-out.

Dr. Josette Katz speaks to the audience“Over the years, the Academy of Culinary Arts has truly earned a reputation as an institution of excellence. I am reminded of the accomplished chefs, bakers and restaurateurs that have all come through these doors and gone on to great careers, not only across the country, but around the world,” said Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Josette Katz. “The success of our academy and its graduates rests on the shoulders of our chef educators, who are integral to the Academy’s excellence by providing quality hands-on training that is foundational to a culinary education.”

An example of an accomplished chef who has gone on to achieve incredible professional success served as the day’s guest speaker. Executive Chef James Hennessey feeds hundreds of thousands of visitors to Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field each year. The 2000 ACA alumnus and President’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipient has prepared exquisite meals for high-profile events, such as the Super Bowl, World Series, NFC Championship games, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London and much more.

Executive Chef James Hennessey speaks to the audience and graduatesTaking part in the day’s festivities brought back a wave of emotions for Hennessey.

“When I saw all of the graduates in the hallway, smiling and enjoying this moment it took me back to 2000 when I was graduating. The innocence of that time and the enjoyment, and to think where I am now, I never thought I could ever be where I am today,” said Hennessey, who urged the graduates to celebrate their successes, but to always challenge themselves, to be inventive and to take their skills to the next level.

“You all have a unique opportunity right now. There is so much available to you at your fingertips that will really allow you to thrive,” said Hennessey. “In our industry, we are struggling to find great young chefs that are looking to transcend and take this profession to the next level. But, you are there and the opportunity is there for you, so push yourselves, work, but be humble and dedicated.”

Hennessey has also never forgotten what the ACA gave him 24 years ago. “I am thankful every single day and I am blessed because of the Academy of Culinary Arts. It has propelled me to be in this position that I am in. I cannot thank the ACA enough for it, so I try to give back as much as possible.”

Chef Educator Vincent Tedeschi introduced this year’s Valedictorian, Valentina Mejia, and bestowed upon her the Nathan Schwartz Award, which was created in his memory. Schwartz, who was a role model to many of his fellow students, was an exceptional scholar and member of the Academy of Culinary Arts’ first graduating class in 1983. He was also a non-traditional student who returned to college after a professional career and raising a family. Unfortunately, following his graduation that year, he tragically passed after an automobile accident.

Valedictorian Valentina Mejia and her familyMejia, whose family flew in all the way from Columbia for this ceremony, addressed her fellow graduates.

“I have a deep sense of pride and excitement for the bright future that lies ahead. The skills and knowledge you have gained are truly remarkable and I have no doubt that you will go on to achieve greatness in the culinary world,” said Mejia. “The culinary arts are not just about creating delicious dishes, they are about passion, creativity and the relentless pursuit of perfection.”

“Each of you has demonstrated these qualities and I am confident you will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in the kitchen, whether you dream of owning your own restaurant, becoming a master chef or revolutionizing the way we think of food. I encourage you to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. To the Class of 2024, congratulations and well done.”

Chef Educator Ruth LaTorre recognized the graduating officers of the Culinary Students Association (CSA): President William Fence, Vice President Julio Gomez, Officer Anthony Colla, Officer Gina Gleason-Diaz, Officer Janell Canion and Officer Jorden Pagan.

Graduates Piero Bisbal-Coloma, Kenneth Coloma, Tyler Deane, Kevin Garcia, Anthony Love and Kyle Quirk became the first cohort of six students to complete the inaugural Cape May Campus Culinary Program.

Director Chef Joseph Sheridan congratulates his graduatesIn his closing remarks, Chef Sheridan left his graduates with a few sage words of advice as they head out into the real world of culinary, baking and pastry careers.

“Embrace sustainability, champion ethical practices and use your influence to advocate for inclusivity in the community. Share your knowledge, share everything you have learned,” implored Sheridan. “And, I promise you, you will fail at something. It’s going to happen and if it doesn’t, it means you didn’t try hard enough. Embrace those failures and learn from them.”

“But, also remember that success isn’t defined solely by the number of stars on a restaurant review, or the number of medals you might have, or the number of plaques hanging on your wall. Measure your success by the joy that you bring to others, the lives that you touch and the lasting impressions that you leave behind. Don’t go after recognition. Be true to your craft and the recognition will come to you.”

Chef Joseph Sheridan presents a medal to a graduateThe 2024 Culinary Arts degree recipients: Benjamin Andrews, Matthew Apt, Piero Bisbal-Coloma, Kenneth Coloma, Tyler Deane, Greta Drach, Kevin Dugbley, Tamane Durham, Angie Echeverri Cano, Eric Estergren, William Fence, Daniel Foley, Katherine Francese, Kevin Garcia, Julio Gomez IV, Sam Guyton, Tyrell Hebron, Josue Ibarra, Tanner Klos, Anthony Love, Dallas McLennan, Valentina Mejia, James Mougeotte, Alex Nunn, Gelasia Nurse, Jerimyah Paduani, Michael Pianghi, Nathan Price, Kyle Quirk, Leonard Reber, Lola Sarni, Christopher Skinner, Jesus Vielma Camacho, and Dominick Walton.

The 2024 Baking & Pastry option degree recipients: Hope Adams, Janell Canion, Anthony Collalti, Sandra Fernandez, Gina Gleason-Diaz, Vivian Nguyen, Jorden Pagan, Andrew Prosser, Kaylee Rivera and Victoria Shaw.

View a photo gallery of this event on Flickr at

Learn more about the Academy of Culinary Arts at



About Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape Community College is a Middle States accredited, 2022 Achieving the Dream Leader College and Hispanic Serving Institution proudly serving the residents of Atlantic and Cape May counties. As a comprehensive, two-year community college, Atlantic Cape offers 47 undergraduate degree programs, and 33 certificate and professional series programs at its Mays Landing, Atlantic City and Cape May campuses. Atlantic Cape is home to the renowned Academy of Culinary Arts, rated the top culinary school in New Jersey, and for more than 50 years, our highly-acclaimed Nursing program. Atlantic Cape also partners with more than 30 colleges and four-year universities to offer students the opportunity to seamlessly earn a bachelor’s degree upon graduation.