Salem culinary arts student has passion for local food
Kelly Gillis was 8 when she watched an older girl in her 4-H program demonstrate cooking skills to a group of young spectators.
“My eyes just lit up like crazy; it was my defining moment,” said Gillis, 17.
It inspired a passion for cooking that’s persisted to this day.
She’s a senior at Greensburg Salem High School and in the culinary program at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, and she recently raised $4,000 at a farm-to-table fundraiser dinner she organized.
She grew up on Gillis Family Farm in Salem, learning the importance of local agriculture from her father, Randy.
“He’s really taught myself and both of my families that eating sustainably and keeping it local is very important,” she said.
Last school year, Kelly had an idea for her senior project. She went to CTC culinary arts instructor Christie Parks for advice.
“She’s passionate, and she has a lot of good ideas, and she keeps me on my toes,” Parks said. “She asked me if I could help her do the planning and pull off a farm-to-table dinner.”
Kelly served a three-course meal to more than 170 people at her family’s farm.
The menu included pork, chicken, cheeses, beans, potatoes, veggies and pies, all with ingredients grown by local farms. Some came directly from the Gillis family; others were donated by other local farms.
Kelly prepared many of the dishes herself.
“I had a really big team behind me, and it all went well,” she said.
Not enough people think about where they get their food, Parks said. She teaches her culinary arts students to consider this, and said events such as Kelly’s can help spread the message.
“I just think it’s very important for the younger generation to realize where the food comes from,” she said. “I think food can be medicine, and the best way to keep people healthy.”
The money raised in the fundraiser will likely go to CTC’s culinary arts program, probably to buy a new high-end pasta maker, Parks said.
Robin Savage, a Greensburg Salem school board member and friend of the Gillis family, helped at the dinner. She said Kelly is a model student.
“I wish every kid was like Kelly. She doesn’t quit, she’s a good leader and a good role model,” she said.
She’s the captain of the CTC Prostart Restaurant Management Team, which came in second two years in a row in a state competition that tasks students with running a simulated restaurant.
She is a member of the Greensburg Salem varsity swim team and captain of the majorettes, holds leadership positions in 4-H and was 2018’s Teen Miss Pennsylvania United States Agriculture.
“Kelly doesn’t stop,” Savage said.
For Kelly, the fundraiser dinner was just the first taste of what she hopes to do with her career.
After graduation, Kelly plans to study marketing at California University of Pennsylvania and use those skills to organize farm-to-table initiatives all over the world.
“Sustainability is really important, and knowing your local farmers and buying local, because keeping your money in the local community really helps it blossom,” she said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .