Andrew senior cooks up a winner
When it comes to culinary talent, Nikki Jager could be considered the Rachael Ray of Andrew High School, where she is entering her senior year.
Jager, 17, is a top chef in the kitchen. As a junior, she competed in the State for Skills USA Culinary division competition and finished seventh overall.
It’s a feat Jager is proud of. She’s been cooking since she was about 3 years old.
“I’ve grown up with it and I like to do it a lot,” she said.
When Jager was a toddler, she’d cook with her grandmother, Delcie Boubel, of Orland Park.
“It was something we’d always do together. I remember making pancakes with her and other things. We still cook together now,” Jager said. “It is just something I’ve always loved doing, and eating the food is great at the end. I have so many good memories not just with my grandma but my family.”
When she entered high school, Jager was eager to take a culinary class and jumped into the curriculum. In January, Jager, who was studying Advanced Culinary, took a placement test for the Skills USA competition in the culinary division. She was told to answer the 100-question test to the best of her ability. A couple of months later, she got the results.
“I had ranked first on the test,” she said.
Skills USA gave her a set of recipes along with an invitation to compete in the statewide event, held in Springfield on April 12.
“It is like an ‘Iron Chef’ competition,” she said, referring to the television program. At the state event, Jager represented Andrew High School and competed against 14 other schools. She was challenged with completing the provided recipes in three hours using a limited space and sharing an oven with another competitor.
She had to make a Caesar salad with lemon pepper shrimp. The main course was garlic and herb roasted chicken with two side dishes, including braised broccoli with carrots and onions, plus mashed potatoes with parsnips.
Students were judged by the way they “plated” the dishes to make them attractive, and on safety and sanitation.
“They wanted to make sure the chicken wasn’t overdone or undercooked and that the presentation was appealing to the eye,” said Jager, the daughter of Brigette Wilson and John Jager.
“It was hectic but exciting and one of the best experiences I have had,” said Jager, of Tinley Park. “I learned a lot about cooking and about how I react under pressure.”
At Andrew, Jager ranks in the top 1 percent of her class. She is a member of the National Honor Society and the speech team, and competes on the WYSE (Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering) team. As a junior, she was captain of the track and cross country teams. She also volunteers as a foreign language tutor and has earned more than 40 community service hours.
Mentoring her throughout her life has been her grandmother.
“I not only cook with her, I talk to her a lot. She’s my best friend,” Jager said. “She’s the strongest person I know and I’ve looked up to her since I was little.”
Up until a couple of years ago, Jager considered pursuing culinary arts in college, but that’s all changed.
Since taking an advanced-placement economics class as a sophomore, she has been planning to become a financial advisor or financial examiner.
“I always think about me in the future and think that what I do now will affect me then. I ask myself, ‘If I make this decision, how will it affect me in 10 or 20 years?’ Doing that keeps me focused because I want to be successful when I’m older,” she said.