Despite growing up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Jessica Felton loves Southern food.
The State College native had the chance to show off her skills in Las Vegas on Nov. 14 as part of the World Food Championships, a group of 10 competitions featuring burgers, chili and pasta.
Felton, a 27-year-old sophomore in the culinary arts program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, competed in the World Seafood Championship and placed 14th out of 45 contestants. Though she did not advance beyond the first round of the competition, she said she was proud of her performance.
“I went in pretty nervous beforehand, but once I started cooking, I got in the zone and it ended up being a lot of fun,” Felton said. “I was one of the younger competitors and one of the only people competing by myself instead of in a pair or team.”
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Contestants had two hours to prepare two dishes — a variation on fish tacos and something that was all their own. Felton made shrimp and grits for her signature dish; it was inspired by her summer internship at Cypress restaurant in Charleston, S.C.
Felton said cooking has been part of her life from an early age, but it was a job at Hoag’s Catering in State College that pushed her to pursue cooking as a career. She hopes to return to South Carolina or elsewhere in the South after graduation.
“I’m really into charcuterie (cooking using prepared pork) and older artisan methods that are common in the South. I’d definitely like to work someplace that highlights that,” Felton said.
Felton won a cooking contest at Penn College to qualify for the World Food Championships. Ben Vaughn, who hosts a TV show based on the competition, visited the school in September and offered a “golden ticket” for one student to compete in Las Vegas.
Charles Niedermyer II, a culinary arts instructor at Penn College, said Felton took the lead on preparing for the competition without much assistance from him or other faculty.
“She showed a lot of initiative and owned the whole process,” Niedermyer said. “She worked ahead on her classes to be able to make the time to be able to go. We were very proud to have her representing the school.”