A chef representing a Rocky Mount catering company was awarded a full scholarship to the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program at Virginia Western Community College on Sept. 28 after triumphing in the 2019 Al Pollard Memorial Gala’s culinary competition.
Daniel Lemons, of Center Stage Catering, will receive an $8,000 scholarship, which covers a two-year associate’s degree at the culinary school. The chef, who is in charge of smoking food at Center Stage, was discovered by culinary arts instructors Ted Polfelt and John Schopp after he posted pictures of his cooking online. He has been training as a secondary sous chef at the catering company ever since, and is particularly fond of cooking barbecue.
CJ King, who serves as a board member for the Al Pollard Memorial Foundation, said that the Al Pollard Zero Hunger / Zero Waste Chef Competition is intended to help budding chefs like Lemon receive a culinary education while simultaneously continuing their work in fine dining and culinary institutions throughout Southwest Virginia. Competing chefs are sponsored by the restaurant or food company they are employed with, which include several notable local institutions, including Billy’s, Lucky Restaurant and 419 West.
The competition, which consists of a mystery basket-style challenge overseen by experienced judges, benefits everyone who competes, King said. All participants are awarded with a $4,000 scholarship intended to cover a career studies certificate, which can be completed in one year. The winners of those scholarships include:
- Devin Agosto of Frankie Rowland’s Steakhouse
- Ray Johnson of Billy’s
- Josh McKnight of Remini’s
- Robert Thompson of Lucky Restaurant
- Azariyah Yashrael of 419 West
Now in its 14th year, the Al Pollard Gala has always included a chef competition, with the aim of helping participants develop further culinary and kitchen management skills that will improve the fine dining scene in Roanoke and the surrounding areas. This year’s competition, however, incorporated a sustainability element. Kroger, a long-time sponsor of the Al Pollard Memorial Gala, invited the competing chefs to buy ingredients for the cooking challenge from its food waste program, which aims to eliminate all food waste stemming from Kroger stores by 2025. The program, launched in 2018, has already reduced the company’s food waste by 40 percent by either diverting edible produce to programs that can use it for food, or by sending it companies that can either compost it, use it to create renewable energy, or recycle it as a source of livestock feed.
“They’re trying to get all this food before it spoils to people who need it, and they’re going to great lengths to do it,” King said. “You wouldn’t believe the food waste that they have, but it’s still good food.”
The Al Pollard Memorial Gala, which took place at Virginia Western’s culinary facilities at the Claude Moore Educational Complex at the Roanoke Higher Education Center, is held in memory of Al Pollard, an area restaurateur who created lauded local institutions such as Corned Beef & Co. Pollard was instrumental in revitalizing the downtown dining experience in Roanoke, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the culinary school, which was announced shortly before his death in 2006. The Al Pollard Memorial Foundation also hosts an annual golf tournament, which took place on Sept. 20. Since its inception, the foundation has raised over $500,000 to benefit of Virginia Western’s culinary program.