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Syrena Johnson: 2011 Chefs Move! Scholarship Recipient 

Last year, chef John Besh started his Chefs Move! program, which provides a yearlong scholarship for minority students from the New Orleans area to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York. The program is intended to spark new opportunities for aspiring minority chefs and prepare new leaders for the New Orleans culinary scene. In addition to tuition, the scholarship pays for housing, travel and equipment, provides job-placement assistance while recipients are studying in New York and includes a paid, eight-week internship at a Besh Restaurant Group property in New Orleans. Chefs Move! is providing two scholarships for 2012. The application deadline is April 30. Visit for details.

  Syrena Johnson is the program's first scholarship recipient. The 21-year-old New Orleans native had been working in local restaurants since she was 16 and was enrolled in the jobs-training program at the nonprofit Liberty's Kitchen (422 S. Broad St., 822-4011; when she won the Chefs Move! scholarship. She moved to New York in November to begin her culinary training. Gambit reached her by email.

What has been the most exciting part of the program for you?

Johnson: Everything. I especially appreciate the opportunity to tell my story. Through this scholarship, I feel like I now have a voice to change things in my community. My days are busy and very productive. I work at Lincoln Restaurant three days a week, go to school at (the French Culinary Institute) the other three days of the week, and I just started wine-tasting classes with Kevin Zraly (founder of the Windows on the World Wine School).

What do you look forward to the most in the future?

J: I look forward to seeing just how good I can become as a chef, what I will accomplish and how many people I'll help along the way.

Has your experience so far changed your views on your career or about this line of work?

J: Absolutely. I never thought about having a career in the culinary industry, because I knew I couldn't afford (culinary school). When I first started out in kitchens, it was just a job to me, but now I know I can have a successful career in this field.


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