Shawnee Mission student and grad chefs named SkillsUSA national culinary champions

Reis Miller (left) and Nora Engelken were named national culinary champions at the SkillsUSA competition in June. Photo courtesy of Reis Miller

Two young chefs — a Shawnee Mission Northwest student and 2017 Shawnee Mission East grad — both took home first place in their division at this year’s SkillsUSA national championships.

SM Northwest junior Reis Miller and SM East grad Nora Engelken, who graduated this year from Culinary Art Institute in New York, were named high school and college culinary arts national champions.

They also both trained at the Broadmoor Bistro in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Miller was eligible for national competition after finishing first place at the state competition in May. He said he probably practiced about 300 hours in the past two months in preparation for the national championship.

The competition required Miller to butcher his own chicken, demonstrate several knife cuts and make a variety of dishes, including salad, soup, sauteed dish and braised dish.

“It was incredible, it was a crazy experience for sure,” Miller said, adding that he ran into a few of his own challenges. “I was running out of time in certain areas, but luckily I hit all my windows. I was close — on my sauteed window, I was 30 seconds away from missing it.”

Miller took second place at the national competition last year; this year, taking first, he credits his family and chef mentors as well as some solid advice from one of the judges for pushing him through to the successful finish.

Reis Miller made a variety of dishes, including this Chicken Salad Jardiniere. Photo courtesy of Reis Miller

“The big thing I learned while I was there was keeping positive and keeping a smile on your face while you’re cooking,” Miller said. “It sounds silly, but… if you keep a smile on your face and you stay happy and you just keep in your groove, you will perform better than anyone else. I took that to heart, and obviously it had something to do with it.”

By winning first place, Miller received a hand-made knife from Speak Easy Forge and three full-ride scholarships to the top culinary schools in the nation, “which is amazing and I’m just incredibly humbled to have that experience.”

Miller is especially thankful for Chef Justin Hoffman, culinary arts and hospitality instructor for the Signature Program.

“It was a crazy summer. He gave up hours of family time just to be with me and help me get to where I am now,” Miller said, adding that he is also thankful for Matt Ziegenhorn, who helped Miller design his menu.

Hoffman taught both Miller and Engelken at Broadmoor Bistro.

“I am extremely proud of the hard work and commitment of both of these students,” Hoffman said. “Their dedication to their craft and their incredible accomplishment will positively impact their future career and success.”

Engelken, who won the National College Culinary Arts Championship, was a Shawnee Mission School District culinary arts student beginning in 2015. After graduating, Engelken attended the Culinary Art Institute and graduated this year.

“All the chefs at Broadmoor helped me at the beginning and taught me everything I know about this profession,” Engelken said. “There’s not another program for high school students like this and it gave me a jump start at the CIA.”

The SkillsUSA national competition took place in June in Louisville in June.