Clanging pots and pans, screaming servers, hot ovens, searing flames, and the reprimands of a head chef are all good reasons to stay out of the kitchen. But for South Texas College graduate Joanna Villarreal, it’s what she lives for.
Villarreal graduated from STC with an associate’s degree in culinary arts in 2010 and earned a culinary arts certificate from the Cordon Bleu College of Austin in 2011. The 22-year-old Edinburg native is currently a line chef at a local restaurant, where she is quickly climbing the proverbial latter in what is typically a man’s world.
“My biggest passion and goal is to be an executive chef,” Villarreal said. “It’s hard being a woman and Hispanic. I want to prove to the world that we can do it. We aren’t just cake designers, we can do this just like men do.
“I was originally signed on to sauté, but I moved quickly. I was very flexible and learned it in minutes,” Villarreal added. “I would be taught something and I picked up real quick. A lot was because of what the chefs at STC showed me. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have moved on. They showed me the passion of working in a kitchen and creating works of art with food.”
During Villarreal’s time at the college she participated in the first STC Iron Chef Competition and the Culinary Arts Department’s Grill-Off, where she applied what she learned in class and gained valuable experience in pressure situations.
“The experience level at STC was phenomenal. The way we were taught and the experience of the instructors gave me a feeling of wanting to do more,” explained Villarreal. “I’m very grateful to them. Chef Paul (Wendland) and Chef Emma (Creps) would make it look so flawless and pretty, so eye-catching. When I see them and their passion, it makes me want to be like that and someday pass on that passion and energy to others.
“Now, I’ve grown so much in food industry I won’t let anyone just walk over me because I’m a woman and young,” she concluded. “I push myself and know that I can do this. I got into this when I was 20, and I keep pushing myself every day. This industry changes every day, but if I can learn it, I can cook it and design it. I have a passion for food.”
For more information about STC’s Culinary Arts Program, call 956-872-2211 or visit http://culinary.southtexascollege.edu/.