ICE online culinary school graduates smile with Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich at ICE's commencement ceremony

Who is Online Culinary School Good For? Meet These 4 Graduates from ICE

Meet some of the business owners, cooks and parents who graduated from ICE's Culinary Arts & Food Operations program in 2024.

Culinary Arts & Food Operations Online graduates with Lead Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich at ICE's commencement ceremony.

As the Institute of Culinary Education continues to grow, so too does our number of graduates. In May 2024, ICE celebrated the second class of Culinary Arts & Food Operations online graduates, with many more to come.

These alumni attended culinary school online for various reasons, including accessibility and ease of scheduling. In doing so, they chose to find their culinary voices by attending an accredited online culinary school with a curriculum developed by expert faculty.

The growth only continues for online culinary school at ICE. Since launching the Culinary Arts online diploma program, ICE has also also launched Plant-Based Culinary Arts & Food Operations online and most recently Baking and Pastry Arts & Food Operations Online.

But who is online culinary school good for, really? Meet four of our recent graduates and hear directly from them about why they chose the online culinary program at ICE.

Meymuna Hussein-Cattan

Culinary school online student Meymuna Hussein smiles with ICE owner and chairman Rick Smilow and Chef Shawn Matijevich
From left: ICE Chairman and Founder Rick Smilow, ICE graduate Meymuna Hussein-Cattan and ICE Lead Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich at commencement.

Meymuna Hussein-Cattan started her culinary school journey just as another chapter of her life was also unfolding — motherhood. Meymuna began the program not long after giving birth. Thanks to the flexible schedule of the Culinary Arts & Food Operations program, she was able to balance family life and school work enough to be able to enjoy both.

Though Meymuna has always loved food, her relationship with the restaurant world before ICE was solely as a business owner.

"When I first started [at ICE], you could have called me a 'hobbyist,'" Meymuna says. "And now, I feel like it really upgraded my understanding of the culinary arts and also, what I've chosen to be — committed to excellence.”

Meymuna is the owner of Flavors from Afar, a Los Angeles restaurant that partners with the Tiyya Foundation to host refugee chefs who present curated, rotating menus of dishes from their home countries. The restaurant has made waves since opening in 2020: it was named as one of the LA Times' 101 Best Restaurants and a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand for two years in a row.

Aside from Meymuna, Flavors from Afar has a very near connection to ICE Los Angeles — Restaurant & Culinary Management graduate Kenna Copes was the former head chef at the restaurant. Seeing Chef Kenna's exemplary work ethic and skills firsthand is what inspired Meymuna to look into culinary school at ICE for herself. She wanted to be able to help her team as a business owner and as a chef.

"I think it takes a team effort," Meymuna says. "Front of house and back of house should be working together simultaneously. I could now not only market the restaurant, but I could roll up my sleeves and help out as a prep cook."

ICE online culinary school graduate Meymuna Hussein-Cattan takes a photo with Lead Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich at commencement
After 16 months of communicating online, Meymuna and Chef Shawn take a photo together in person.

As her career continues to flourish, Meymuna feels confident about her choice to pursue education at ICE.

"If you're on the fence [about] going to culinary school, I would say just jump in anyway with two feet," she says. "It's only going to make your career and your journey that much better and refined. And if you choose not to [go], I think you'll miss out on learning who you could become in the process."

Jason Sims

Jason Sims smiles at ICE graduation after completing culinary school online
Jason Sims (center) with ICE LA commencement speaker Chef Evan Funke and ICE Chairman and Founder Rick Smilow at commencement.

After 40 years in the hospitality industry, Jason Sims was ready to start cooking. He's currently the owner of the Merritt House Hotel in Monterey, California and has worked in many food and beverage and hotel properties during his professional life.

The Culinary Arts & Food Operations online program found Jason at the perfect time. He was searching for ways to further his career, and found an online option that worked for his schedule as a business owner and was accessible to his location in Northern California.

Online culinary school graduate Jason Sims smiles in uniform next to the sign for his hotel
Courtesy: Jason Sims.

When Jason started the program, he faced some initial challenges with the technology involved in taking a 16-month online program, but he quickly adapted with help from the program's Lead Chef-Instructor Shawn Matijevich.

"Chef Shawn was able to help me from the very beginning, personally, since I had very little knowledge of the technology in the program," Jason says. "Chef Shawn definitely made it so that I was not feeling uncomfortable asking for help. And at this age, sometimes it's hard to ask for help. I asked, and it was a fantastic beginning to the program. And it kept me going."

Even after years in the hospitality industry, Jason says he still found plenty to learn in the online culinary school program's varied curriculum.

Every step of this program had something new and exciting to learn.

"Every day was a new challenge. And that's what I enjoyed about it. Being in the industry for 40 years, I felt I knew everything, but I did not, even in the learning aspect. What I really enjoyed was learning about different cultures when we got into more international cooking. That was a lot of fun. And it gave me a lot of creative ideas for a restaurant opportunity in the future. Every step of this program had something new and exciting to learn."

Looking toward the future, Jason has big plans for his newly-acquired culinary skills.

"The goal is for me to start catering for six months to a year or so," Jason says. "And then, there's a property next to my hotel, which I plan on putting the restaurant in within the next couple of years."

ICE online culinary school graduate Jason Sims smiles with a board of prepared sushi
Courtesy: Jason Sims.

Zakia "Trisha" Answary

ICE online culinary school graduate Zakia "Trisha" Answary smiles with her family at commencement
Zakia "Trisha" Answary (center, with green sash) smiles with her family atICE's commencement ceremony. Courtesy: Trisha Answary

Zakia "Trisha" Answary always knew she loved to cook. While growing up in Bangladesh, she says she loved to watch cooking shows on TV. But, at the time, her family didn't see working in the kitchen as a viable career. So, she went to medical school.

After Trisha had gotten married, started a family and moved to Canada, cooking entered back into her life in a big way. She remembers all of the friends she and her husband used to host who raved about her cooking.

"They would go 'Oh, my God, your cooking is so good. So why don't you open something up?' But, I wanted to learn first," Trisha says.

ICE culinary school online graduate Zakia "Trisha" Answary in uniform preparing to cook.
Courtesy: Trisha Answary.

Another move to Milpitas, California with her family found Trisha spending time at home with her young children, cooking still on her mind. But traditional culinary school wouldn't work with her schedule as a homemaker. Soon enough, though, things would change.

"One day, my husband saw the online culinary program that ICE was offering," she says. "He said 'Why don't you give it a try? So, that's how I came to ICE."

When Trisha started her coursework, she found the process of cooking on her own and uploading pictures and videos of her creations slightly challenging. In the end, though, she thinks doing so helped her be meticulous with each dish as she made it, since she wanted to present the best possible product each time.

In Trisha's case, while she benefitted from the lectures, kitchen-based labs and educational materials in the online culinary program, her family also benefitted from all of the food she cooked on a weekly basis. She says her children's favorite dishes were all from the pastry section of the program.

Trisha's mother even visited from Bangladesh and tried one of the salads she made during her Fundamentals 1 course. Trisha says she loved it.

"She was from Bangladesh, we have different kinds of cuisine," Trisha says. "When she was trying the salad, I believe it was pear and cranberry salad, she said 'Oh my God, it's good! It's very good. I really like it.'"

Trisha says completing the online culinary program while taking care of her kids was a lot of work, but so worth it for her in the end. Though right now she's enjoying a bit of calm post-graduation, she hopes to one day open her own restaurant.

No matter where she ends up, though, Trisha is confident she'll be cooking.

A plated chicken and bok choy dish made by an online culinary school student
One of Trisha's dishes made for online culinary school. Courtesy: Trisha Answary.

"I always wanted to be a chef. I enjoy cooking. I do it out of love," she says. "It's what I wanted for so long. And it was a great journey."

Jericho Chun-Lai

ICE culinary school online graduate Jericho Chun-Lai smiles with his family at ICE's commencement ceremony
Jericho Chun-Lai (left) and his family at ICE's commencement ceremony.

Though ICE's Culinary Arts & Food Operations online program is accredited in many states in the United States, as the program has grown, many students have come from California or nearby states such Arizona and Texas.

Jericho Chun-Lai, however, is from a bit further away. He's ICE's first online culinary student from Hawaiʻi, specifically the Big Island. 

Jericho has been cooking in professional kitchens for years. He started thinking about attending culinary school while mapping out his future in the industry. As he worked his way up through various hotel kitchens, he found his bosses expecting more of him in each role.

A plated chicken dish made by an online culinary school student
One of Jericho's plated dishes from ICE's online culinary school program. Courtesy: Jericho Chun-Lai

"The chefs, they're wanting to see more," Jericho says. "So I told myself, if they want more, I gotta buckle down and learn more."

Jericho chose to attend online culinary school because the schedule was flexible with his full-time job and with raising a family. He says there were many days he would get home after work, open his laptop and start learning.

For Jericho, one of the most challenging parts of the online culinary program was finding the ingredients for each dish. Though the program has a set curriculum with certain dishes, ICE's online Chef-Instructors are always willing to help students find substitutions for ingredients that are hard to source in certain areas, which was the case for Jericho.

One of his favorite lessons was during the international portion of the program.

“I learned how to make sushi," Jericho says. "Coming from Hawaii that's very authentic food and cuisine. That's one memory I will take wherever I go in the culinary field."

When it came time for his in-person commencement ceremony at ICE, Jericho decided to celebrate in a big way. He, his wife and his one-year-old daughter flew to Pasadena, CA to attend the event — and they went to Disneyland afterward.

Jericho's gracious attitude and determination set him up for success at ICE. Now, he's equipped with knowledge to continue pursuing his culinary dreams.

"ICE is all you could ever ask for in an online school," Jericho says. "These instructors, the chefs, the support guys behind the scenes, they're all here for you. Coming personally from a guy from Hawaiʻi, I never thought I would go this far without ICE."

ICE is all you could ever ask for in an online school.

Onward, upward and full of flavor. Congratulations to all of our 2024 graduates!

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