Alyson Tabb part of CIA's Cream of the Crop

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The Culinary Institute of America's Cream of the Crop scholarship has been awarded to only about ten young chefs a year for the past twelve years. So the chance of someone who'd just started cooking and baking in the past year making the cut would seem slim -- but Alyson Tabb, who was born and raised in Westminster, beat the odds.

"I recently met a friend who introduced me to the world of food," says Tabb. "She went to CIA and came home over Easter and was having a ball cooking and showing us everything she was learning. The more I got into it, the more I loved it."

Tabb is almost done tallying her six months of work experience in the food-service industry, which is the minimum requirement to attend CIA. The 22-year-old volunteers at the Denver Rescue Mission and SAME Cafe, works at Mulberries Cake Shop on Colfax Avenue. In April, she will begin working toward her degree in baking and pastry arts at the Hyde Park, New York, campus of CIA.

Tabb, a 2006 graduate of Community Christian High School in Northglenn, will receive $5,000 each year as long as she maintains a 3.2 GPA -- which sounds feasible, considering she held a 3.9 GPA through high school and college at Front Range Community College in Longmont. That GPA helped, but a well-rounded resume, including a stellar essay, earned the novice chef her scholarship.

"All the different things, including her recommendations, her extracurricular activities, her volunteer work -- all that together was why we chose her," says Lauren Cunningham, manager of admissions communication at CIA. "In the essay, we look at what sets them apart from all the rest -- because all the students who are applying for it have really, really strong academics. We look for what's going to make them successful in the food-service industry, what sets them apart from other students, and that they're going to be a leader in the industry and a leader within the CIA student body when they get here."

What really sets Tabb apart from most people is that she actually liked writing the essay. "I had a blast writing it and telling them what I wanted to do," she says. "It was less of an essay you would do for school and more of, 'This is my heart, and this is what I want to do.'

"I didn't expect to receive a scholarship and I was elated when I did," she continues. "I was working at SAME Cafe, and I normally don't answer my phone at work. The woman [from CIA] told me, and I tried to act professionally, but as soon as I hung up I ran back into the cafe and yelled, 'I got the scholarship!'"

Tabb was working toward her bachelor's in fine arts at Metro State until the kitchen started calling to her. She says painting and drawing were activities she always loved -- until she went to school and they became chores she had to do. But knowing she'll now be studying cooking and baking hasn't put a stop to her enjoyment of them.

"I enjoy feeding people a lot," says Tabb. "There are a lot of opportunities to teach people about the nutrition of something. I find it really intriguing, and there's a lot you can do with it, especially with people going vegetarian and organic." For example, she makes healthy snacks and food for her grandmother, who is on dialysis.

"I want to do more in the community than just working in an upscale restaurant," Tabb concludes. "I think there are enough of those, and we need to help each other more in the community and go a little more healthy with food and with the economy, help cut costs."

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