Marissa Brazell’s path to becoming the 2021 Student Chef of the Year began in her family’s home kitchen. “I grew up baking with my family on Sunday afternoons after church. We were always in the kitchen together,” she says.
It wasn’t until she took an elective class in high school, Introduction to Culinary Arts, with Chef Fred Wright, CEC, AAC, that she realized her true passion. “I never understood that cooking could be a career for me,” says the 2021 Student Chef of the Year. “Chef Fred Wright was really encouraging and made me want to go into baking and pastry,” she says.
Brazell has always had high ambitions. Just one year out of high school, she quickly earned an associate degree then saved money to attend the esteemed Oregon Coast Culinary Institute (OCCI) in Coos Bay, Oregon, the winner of this year’s Student Team Competition. That’s where she met another mentor, Chef Randy Torres, CEC, AAC, and got a taste for the competition life.
Brazell was part of the OCCI student team coached by Chef Torres that took the national student team title in 2019. In 2020, she planned to train under Chef Torres for the Student Chef of the Year competition. When the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the competition to 2021, Chef Torres connected Brazell with Chef Patricia Nash, CEPC, at Mountain Lake, a private club community in Lake Wales, Florida, to learn the art of baking and pastry and begin training for the 2021 Student Chef of the Year competition.
Her move to Lake Wales and train under Chef Nash proved to be strategic. Chef Nash won the title of Pastry Chef of the Year in 2007, has competed with ACF Culinary Team USA, and has served as a judge for numerous ACF culinary competitions. “She knows exactly what to look for and was the best person to help me train for this,” says Brazell of Chef Nash’s expertise.
In the Student Chef of the Year competition, competitors have the choice to create two savory dishes or two pastry dishes from a mystery basket. Savory and pastry competitors are judged together, so the competition is stiff, but Brazell’s menu and execution proved superior.
For the hot-plated dessert, Brazell created a chocolate custard with strawberry lime essence and pistachio crumble. The cold-plated dessert was a honey mascarpone and raspberry panna cotta with a vanilla bean mousse, raspberry Riesling sorbet, and a Linzer sandwich cookie.
Mentors Make a Difference
Brazell’s experience shows the power of having a network of mentors to navigate a culinary career. The work often entails long hours, low pay, and sub-par benefits, which makes it especially tricky for women who want to have a family. With the wisdom and connections of her mentors, Brazell was able to break into the culinary industry as a club and resort chef, which comes with better pay, benefits, and stability.
And she’s witnessed first-hand how other young chefs without mentors can fall behind and miss out on opportunities, even though they’ve graduated from prestigious culinary institutions.
Brazell, who is currently a pastry line cook at Mountain Lake, has been bitten by the competition bug and has no intentions of slowing down. She is laser focused on making the cut as a pastry chef for the 2028 ACF Culinary Team USA. Career-wise she hopes to attain the role of an executive pastry chef of a resort or club and become an ACF Certified Executive Pastry Chef.
“Working with Chef Nash, I’ve learned the classical ways of doing things and better techniques,” says Brazell. “Now that I’ve gotten those down, I’m ready to do some things outside the box,” she says. “I really want to do chocolate work and cake decorating…I’m ready for Chef Nash to teach me a few tricks.”
As if she wasn’t busy enough, Brazell also has big plans as the ACF Young Chefs Club President. She wants to help other young chefs connect with each other, form relationships with mentors, and get more young chefs involved in career-oriented activities so the next generation of chefs can have fulfilling and successful careers.
Fun Facts About Marissa
- Dad’s BBQ
Favorite Desserts to Make:
- Giant crème brûlée in a Pyrex pan
- Bundt cakes
Wants to Learn:
- Petit gâtea
- Mirror glazes
- Modern pastry techniques