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TJC professor named Pastry Chef of the Year

Kortney McMillian, Tyler Junior College culinary professor, has been named Pastry Chef of the Year by the East Texas Chapter of the Texas Chefs Association.

“It’s a community for chefs to gain knowledge to help one another, to network, and to build relationships with other chefs in the Texas area,” McMillian said of the organization.

McMillian was selected for the award by a vote of chapter members. Following her win, she can go on to compete at the state level for the Pastry Chef Award, next year.

Now in her third year as part of the TJC Culinary Arts faculty, she teaches fundamentals of baking, a nutrition lecture and continuing studies classes, which have included classes on making ice cream sandwiches, pasta and pizza.

“I truly enjoy showing people a passion for creating food and baking different products to create memories,” she said. “It can take people back to their grandma’s kitchen, cooking a meal, and just enjoying family time.”

Her specialty, though, is baking and pastries.

“I always loved being in the kitchen and having a way to share love,” she said. “It was always a way to get a sense of family and connection. My relatability was that food always equaled love and happiness and family and gathering.”

In addition to her teaching duties, she also works part time at Honeycomb Bakery in Chandler and decorates cakes when she has time.

As a member of the Texas Chefs Association, she says it’s a wonderful opportunity for chefs across the state to share their expertise and hold educational seminars, some of which have been held at TJC.

“I was very excited to receive this award,” she said. “I’m originally from Southwest Louisiana, so being able to now be known as a Texas chef and to get that knowledge and network with other wonderful chefs — it’s truly been an honor to be around some people who have amazing experience and who are truly humbled by it.”

McMillian is also a member of the American Culinary Federation, the largest chef’s organization in the country.

Her next step is to become a certified pastry chef through the ACF, and she hopes to continue teaching at TJC and sharing valuable lessons about baking and love.

“What I hope to pass along to my students is that they have the same passion and drive to push themselves to create the best product that they can and know that there is always room to learn and grow,” she said. “Especially in this industry, you can never stop learning as it evolves with time.”

She continued, “Food is like a universal language. You can meet someone new and start a conversation with food and ask them what their favorite treat is or something that brings great memories. The one thing we all do is eat, so, we need people to help create food for everyone to enjoy.”

And speaking of great memories, McMillian may, once again, join forces with other chefs for the 20th annual Bethesda Health Clinic fundraiser, which allows custom-made cakes to be auctioned off for charity.

TJC President and CEO Dr. Juan E. Mejia has recommended she decorate a cake for this year’s auction.

McMillian’s cake sold for $11,000 at the fundraiser back in 2021.

About the TJC Culinary Arts program
TJC Culinary Arts provides students with the opportunity to study in a state-of-the-art facility in George W. Pirtle Technology Center on the TJC Central Campus, in a fully equipped commercial kitchen with a dining area where students can develop their craft in a real restaurant setting.

The Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts prepares students for entry-level restaurant management positions. Students learn culinary and baking skills as well as management theories, practices and strategies. Much of their time is spent working in a culinary arts lab learning traditional, current, American and international cooking techniques as well as inventory management and purchasing.

A basic culinary certificate is for students to learn basic techniques in food safety, kitchen equipment and cooking. These courses offer fundamental principles of knife- and food-handling as well as nutrition and menu management. Students earning this certificate are prepared for entry-level positions in various types of kitchens.

A pastry arts certificate is available for individuals interested in the professional baking industry. Students learn the fundamentals of baking and cake decorating as well as food safety. Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions in the baking/pastry industry.

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