PHS Junior Attends National SkillsUSA Culinary Arts Competition

by Tom Walogorsky

Something exciting has been cooking for one Pawling High School Student. Over the past few months, junior Amanda Scoca has been riding a wave of success that has recently taken her to the Nationals of the SkillsUSA Culinary Arts Competition in Louisville, KY.

Scoca divides her time between the high school and the Dutchess BOCES Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management Program, studying under Chef Instructor Darcy Sala. She is also heavily involved in the community, volunteering at the Pawling Fire Department and holding jobs at the Bakeria and Iron and Wine restaurant. An honor student and member of the varsity soccer team, she balances her academics and extracurriculars with her true passion – cooking. It was the pursuit of this passion that led Scoca to begin her journey in the SkillsUSA competitions.

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry workers who cooperate to ensure that young adults can become world-class skilled workers and leaders. Their competitions begin at the regional level, this year held in January at Rockland Community College. There, Scoca would place 2nd overall, which would qualify her to move on to the state competition in Syracuse in April. There, Ms. Scoca would make history.

The New York State SkillsUSA competition would prove to be a rigorous one. The culinary students were put through a series of timed exercises, designed to simultaneously demonstrate their skills and prepare food. These included salad preparation, chicken fabrication, knife cuts, an entree round, and a written component. Scoca was the first junior student from Dutchess County BOCES to attend the competition and was ultimately awarded 1st place. This victory would propel her forward to the National competition.

With a little over a month between the state and national competitions, the cost of travel expenses and accommodations presented a challenge. To offset these costs, Scoca’s mother, Jodi Samela, began an online fundraising campaign through the GoFundMe website to complement her daughter’s own fundraising through BOCES. This endeavor netted Scoca over $3,700 and helped make the dream of national competition a reality. “So many people helped us from the town, the fire department, the PFD Ladies Auxiliary – they were all behind her. We were so humbled,” Ms. Samela explained.

When she finally reached the National Competition on June 19, the challenges for Scoca were only beginning. A kickball game prior to the trip resulted in a broken ankle, and she was forced to compete while wearing a walking boot. In addition, she was still required to take her Regents Chemistry exam, which was specially flown to Kentucky to be completed between phases of the competition. However, injury and academic obligation did little to deter Scoca’s focus when it was time to compete.

Going against the number 1 ranked student from each state, Scoca again took part in timed rounds of chicken fabrication, knife cuts, soup preparation, and two entree rounds. For these, she prepared sautéed chicken with glazed carrots, and braised chicken cacciatore with roasted potatoes. Though the competition was intense, Scoca chose to focus on the honor of competing at such a high level. “Having the experience to go against everyone chosen from their states was amazing. Just to be one of those competitors,” she said.

At the conclusion of the competition, Scoca learned that she had scored high enough for a guaranteed spot in the top ten. (Final tallies are not yet available.) Scoca’s accomplishment is undoubtedly impressive. She not only reached the top ten at the national level of the context, but she also brought a great measure of pride to her schools, her town, and her family. “As a mom, seeing her competing against the best of the best, being injured, and never giving up, it was a day full of pride,” Ms. Samela said.