PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 08: Students participate in “Cooking with Champions” at Frank H. Peterson Academies before THE PLAYERS Championship on February 8, 2022 in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

Cooking with Champions

THE PLAYERS and TPC Sawgrass serve up unique opportunity for Duval County Public Schools culinary arts students

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 08: Students participate in “Cooking with Champions” at Frank H. Peterson Academies before THE PLAYERS Championship on February 8, 2022 in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

On March 14, THE PLAYERS will crown its 2022 champion. The moment when the champion sinks the winning putt is likely one of the most nerve-wracking and pressure-packed moments of his entire life. By winning the PGA TOUR’s flagship event, he joins the esteemed list of players who can forever call themselves a PLAYERS Champion.

On February 8, two students from Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology in Duval County Public Schools also experienced a ‘defining moment’ of their career, when they were crowned the first-ever champions of the Cooking with Champions competition.

This competition was a unique collaboration between the Career and Technical Education Department at Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), THE PLAYERS and TPC Sawgrass.

What does cooking have to do with a golf tournament?

A lot more than you might think.

During the week of THE PLAYERS, the clubhouse is transformed into a VIP hospitality experience called THE PLAYERS Club, one of the most exclusive hospitality experiences in sport and entertainment, featuring hand-crafted food and beverage offerings from renowned chefs across the world. TPC Sawgrass Senior Executive Chef Azhar Mohammad, PGA TOUR Chef Director Eric Butcher, and their culinary teams will host and serve players and guests at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse during tournament week, March 8-13.

With less than a month to go, Chefs Mohammad and Butcher have to-do lists much longer than our grocery lists, but this didn’t stop them from traveling across town to inspire and mentor the next generation of culinarians.

Mohammad and Butcher served as judges for Cooking with Champions, a live, in-person cook off where five teams of culinary arts students at DCPS high schools prepared and cooked a recipe that will be served in THE PLAYERS Club during tournament week: pan seared Scallops, butternut squash risotto, roasted cauliflower and chermoula.

The Culinary Arts programs at several DCPS high schools held their own semi-finals cooking competitions to determine the top five finalists who advanced to the in-person cook off.

On January 28, the finalists learned the dish they would be preparing and were given one week to devise a plan of attack. The teams would be judged not just on the finished product, but the entire preparation and cooking process. Each team had exactly one hour to prepare their dish, and start times for each team were staggered by 10 minutes so that the judges had time to evaluate each dish as it was being prepared, in addition to tasting each dish upon completion.

There was a lot more at stake than just bragging rights or the opportunity to receive advice and guidance from two of the most renowned chefs in the hospitality industry.

The winning team would earn an exclusive opportunity to support Chefs Mohammad and Butcher and their teams during the week of THE PLAYERS, as they prepare to host and serve more than 800 guests a day in THE PLAYERS Club.

After Mohammad and Butcher, alongside guest judge, 2022 Tournament Chairman Matt Welch, completed their judging and deliberations, the room was eerily quiet as the students eagerly awaited to hear the final results.

The reaction from De'cota Allen and Colun Smith upon hearing their names announced as the Champions summed up how meaningful this competition was to them. The teammates jumped up and down, erupted in cheers and hugged their teacher, Chef Susan Dougherty.

Moments and opportunities like these are what the Career and Technical Education Department at DCPS is all about - going beyond lesson plans and gaining hands-on, real-world experiences.

“I am so grateful to THE PLAYERS Championship, TPC Sawgrass, FSCJ, and Publix for providing this amazing opportunity for our students,” said Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene. “These community partnerships are absolutely invaluable because they help create beyond-the-classroom experiences where our children can become familiar with real-world scenarios and connect with leaders and mentors in their field. The support we have from our community partners bolster the more than 50 Career and Technical Education programs available for both middle school and high school- students.”

But that’s not all. There was an additional item on the menu for the winners of this competition. Each student on the winning team also received a $2,250 scholarship should they apply, be accepted and decide to enroll at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

For Mohammad and Butcher, this competition was an incredible reminder of how one opportunity, one defining moment, can change the trajectory of a career.

“I am where I am because I have these mentors who helped me right from day one when I went into the kitchen for the first time,” said Mohammad. “Just the sheer magnitude of the culinary operations at THE PLAYERS, for these students to experience it - in this town, this city - it’s so important to have this relationship with these students. Hopefully we motivated some of these students to make culinary arts a career.”

“Our team is always looking for ways to make sure our entire community feels connected to this championship, and this Cooking with Champions competition is a dish we knew needed to be on our 2022 menu of community engagement activities,” said Jared Rice, Executive Director of THE PLAYERS. “We are fortunate to have such an incredibly talented culinary team at TPC Sawgrass led by Chefs Azhar and Eric who share our mission of engaging with the community where we host this global championship and culinary showcase of excellence.”