Keep the Faith: Monmouth County Vocational School Chef’s Journey to Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen


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Joshua Wiggins knew from an early age that he wanted to be a chef. As a young boy, he developed a taste for the culinary arts while learning to cook alongside his grandmother.

While in Neptune High School, Wiggins enrolled part-time at the Asbury Park Culinary Education Center run by the Monmouth County Vocational School District. It was there that he developed the skills that would prepare him to launch a successful career as a chef.

Today, he is the Executive Chef of Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen at Red Bank, a non-profit community restaurant that serves high-quality farm-to-table meals to paying and needy clientele. .

Wiggins credits the education he received at the Culinary Education Center with giving him the skills he needed to launch his restaurant career and rise through the ranks quickly.

His first job in the industry was in the summer at the now defunct Circus Drive-In on Route 35 in Wall Township, where he quickly became manager. Soon after, he landed a job at the Sheraton Eatontown Hotel, one of the sites his high school used for vocational training. While he was there, he said, the executive chef noticed him and hired him after his internship.

“It was interesting working in a professional kitchen at 15, especially in a hotel, where it’s mass production,” Wiggins said. “I think that’s what helped me create a lot of skills for myself. I learned how to cook in batches and organize events which is another distinct aspect of working online in a restaurant.

In 2015, Wiggins participated in Skills USA, a national student competition involving more than 6,500 students in 103 professional and technical skill categories. Wiggins took first place in New Jersey and 15e across the nation in the Culinary Arts category.

“The competition made me more disciplined,” he said. “They really let me practice and practice. I started training during school. I got to work out after school because they really want you to do well.

After graduation, Wiggins decided to continue his culinary education at Brookdale Community College, which partners with the vocational school to offer college courses at the same culinary education center. With the credit of his high school education, he was able to graduate in just three semesters with an associate’s degree from the community college.

After graduating from college, Wiggins said he wanted to add one more skill to his repertoire: pastry chef. So, he returned to the Culinary Education Center to obtain a certificate in pastry arts.

Armed with his education, skills and experience, Wiggins said he was more than ready to start working in the industry. He landed a job as a sous chef at Scarborough Fair, a fine dining establishment in Sea Girt.

While working at Scarborough Fair, Wiggins said he got a call from “Chopped”, a cooking contest on the Food Network. Eight months after the initial call and several auditions, he made his debut on the show, where he said he fell back on some of the tips he learned at Skills USA.

Although he didn’t make it to the final round, Wiggins said it was a great opportunity.

After Scarborough Fair, he landed at Soul Kitchen, where he started as a sous-chef. Within months, he said, he was promoted to chef.

“Working here for me is a win-win,” Wiggins said. “I can have a career as a chef in a restaurant where I also help give back to my community. “

Like many entrepreneurs, Wiggins also has a small side. He joined another Culinary Education Center graduate who also works at Soul Kitchen to form a business called Chefs Prep, which offers catering services and healthy prepared foods delivered to homes once a week in Monmouth County. .

“He’s our baby right now,” Wiggins said. “It’s just more experience to finally reach our goal of having our own restaurant.”

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