VGCC Culinary Arts student reflects on national competition

From left, VGCC Culinary Arts student Dustin Gregory of Oxford and his instructor, Chef Teresa Davis. (VGCC photo)

From left, VGCC Culinary Arts student Dustin Gregory of Oxford and his instructor, Chef Teresa Davis. (VGCC photo)

Dustin Gregory of Oxford, a student in the Culinary Arts program at Vance-Granville Community College, is back on campus after representing not only his school but the entire state of North Carolina in a nationwide competition.

Gregory competed at this summer’s SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. He qualified for the competition by winning the top prize in Culinary Arts at the state-level SkillsUSA conference in April, and became the first student from VGCC to take part in a national SkillsUSA contest.

As one of 27 culinary competitors from across the nation, and the only one from a North Carolina college, Gregory was given a box of ingredients and specific rules to follow as he created a soup, salad and two entrees in a limited amount of time. His dishes, all prepared in a little more than five hours, started with a tomato soup topped with a poached egg. His salad included mixed greens with fried chicken livers and a honey Dijon vinaigrette. Gregory said that the requirement to use chicken livers seemed to “stump” many of the competitors. “I put it on the salad, and I wasn’t the only one,” he noted with a laugh.

The two entrees he prepared were airline chicken with roasted potatoes and haricots verts, followed by beef shank braised in a demi-glace with a mushroom au jus sauce, couscous and lentils, and sautéed squash with red pepper. In the end, Gregory did not medal, but he viewed the experience as a positive one. “I’ve always liked competitions,” he said. “It can only make you better, and it builds character. Just to be able to make it to that level, to represent your school and your state, is a really good feeling.”

Gregory was accompanied to Louisville by his Culinary instructor, Chef Teresa Davis, as well as VGCC Dean of Business & Applied Technologies Angela Gardner-Ragland, Public Services department chair Steven Hargrove, Business Technologies department chair Spring Tucker, Applied Technologies department chair Keith Shearon and Cosmetology program head Tomeka Moss. “We are so very proud of him,” Gardner-Ragland said. “It was a great experience that he can put on his resume.  He represented VGCC and the state of North Carolina very well.”

“Everyone from Vance-Granville was very supportive,” Gregory said. Davis, in particular, helped him prepare after they arrived and learned what ingredients he would have to use, but she could only watch during the actual competition. Gregory not only had to compete in the skills competition but also had to take written tests, in which he used the knowledge he has gained in his two years as a VGCC student.

Gregory expressed his appreciation to US Foods and other friends of VGCC who made donations to help sponsor his trip to the conference.

With his VGCC Culinary classes complete, Gregory is currently finishing up some general education courses on a part-time basis, with plans to graduate in 2017. Meanwhile, he continues to work at the award-winning Angus Barn restaurant in Raleigh as a sauté cook. Gregory is thinking about continuing his education to complete a bachelor’s degree in the culinary field. “I originally enrolled in this program because I wanted to open up a restaurant on the coast,” he said. “I’d still like to be my own boss, but right now, I’m focused on my education. The higher your education is, the more things will fall into place.”

SkillsUSA is a partnership of secondary and post-secondary students, teachers and industry, working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA chapters help students who are preparing for careers in technical, skilled and service occupations excel. Among the benefits to VGCC students are opportunities to participate in competitions, which are designed by industry experts and showcase the nation’s top career and technical education students.

For more information about the Culinary Arts program, contact Chef Davis at or (919) 690-0312.