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Perham grad spices things up at culinary school

Dillon Spanswick, a 2010 Perham High School graduate, is studying to become a chef. Submitted photo.

Dillon Spanswick, a 2010 graduate of Perham High School, is getting a taste for life as a chef while studying in Minneapolis.

Now, Spanswick is in the midst of finals at the Art Institutes International in the Twin Cities, with both traditional classroom tests and practical finals where he prepares dishes.

Going to school at the Art Institutes has been an "incredible experience so far," Spanswick said.

"It is more than what I ever expected," he said. "It has totally astounded me how amazing my teachers are and how much knowledge and experience they have."

His professors are professionals who have worked in the food industries for decades. He spends three days of the week in the classroom and two days in the lab. One of his professors is working with First Lady Michelle Obama to work on food plans for American schools.

Also, while at the Art Institutes, Spanswick has had the opportunity to try out his culinary skills for big money with TV cameras involved.

In May, Spanswick was a participant in the best teen chef competition at the Art Institutes. He was required to prepare an appetizer, main entrée, and dessert in 2 1/2 hours.

The best teen chef competition encourages students who wish to pursue a career in culinary arts to design a meal with ingredients they are given. The ingredients included shrimp, chicken, rice, lettuce and other items. All participants were judged on safety and sanitation, presentation, along with flavor and creativity.

Spanswick was chosen as one of eight from Minnesota to compete in the televised competition.

While he didn't win, Spanswick said the experience was worth it.

"Even though I didn't win, it was definitely a good opportunity for me to expand my creativity," he said.

While at Perham High School, Spanswick was a student in ProStart classes instructed by Mary Karkela, family and consumer science teacher.

Karkela said Spanswick showed promise for becoming a chef here in East Otter Tail County.

"Dillon had worked in a restaurant for a period of time [the restaurant at Thumper Pond]," she said. "And he was interested in all areas of cooking. He was especially willing to try using spices and experimenting with spices to enhance a recipe. Attentive to presentation was also an interest of Dillon's. He would try various garnishments to make the appearance of a dish more pleasing."

While working his way up from a dishwasher to a line cook at Thumper Pond, Spanswick said he found a love of cooking.

"Throughout the process I began to really enjoy the fast pace," he said. "And the fun you can have when you're with the right people. It wasn't always a career I thought I would have done, but it's definitely an awesome field to go into."

Spanswick was awarded a $2,000 scholarship from the Carlson Family Foundation and the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation to attend the Art Institutes. While in high school, he was awarded about $4,000 in scholarships.

Spanswick's goal after graduating in the spring or winter of 2011 is to work aboard a cruise ship.

He is the son of Kristi Spanswick of Fergus Falls and Bruce Spanswick of Ottertail.