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High school junior earns high honors in culinary

Meet the Future: Dylan Vander Meer

Name: Dylan Vander Meer
School: Comstock Park High School
Passion: Culinary arts

Comstock Park — Junior Dylan Vander Meer has already been recognized for his culinary skills by fellow students and local chefs, and it is only his first year in the hospitality and culinary program at Kent Career Tech Center.

How old were you when culinary arts became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? Dylan said he was 15 when he became interested in culinary arts. “What inspired me was working with my dad, which kind of pushed it for me,” he said. Kevin Vander Meer has been in the business for almost 40 years. He owns KJ Catering and works for an Ohio food distributor. 

A few related accomplishments: Dylan was named 2024 Junior Culinarian of the Year by the  American Culinary Federation of Greater Grand Rapids and joined other chefs recognized by the Grand Rapids ACF chapter to make a four-course meal for the Kids Food Basket’s annual fundraiser, Feast for Kids.

“I made a cauliflower salad with a sweet basil dressing. Everyone liked the food a lot, and people were asking for extra dressing because they really liked (it). I selected cauliflower because of dietary restrictions. It is the easiest thing to do. I didn’t have to worry about vegetarian or dairy (requests) or all that stuff.”

Why did you decide to come to the Kent Career Tech Center for the culinary program? “To get more real-world experience. I can’t really … get the learning part until college. So it’s nice to get the learning part now, while I am in high school. So if I go to college, I will have more experience.”

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact? Dylan immediately pointed to his culinary program instructor, Denise Pohl. “She has helped me through everything, and taught me things that I didn’t know about being in culinary.”

The day of this interview, Dylan was learning how to make a focaccia, something he said he had not done before. He stretched the dough, then asked Pohl if he was doing it correctly. She told him to fold it into a ball to activate the gluten. Dylan nodded, and began folding and stretching.

Do you plan to pursue this professionally? He’s considering it, he said, but also pursuing the marketing end of the business.

Outside of culinary arts, what are your other hobbies or interests? Dylan is a captain of Comstock Park’s tennis team and is on the varsity gold team. He also likes to fish.

“I work for my dad’s catering business, but I also like to do lawn care on the side.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from your involvement in culinary is…“Being kind to people. That is the key to working with other people: just be kind to them. Then you gain their trust, and when you gain their trust you can work with them better.”

As for the Tech Center: “Coming here has taught the proper way to do stuff in the workforce such as cooking etiquette, knife skills, cooking skills and stuff like that.”

Is there a favorite part of the culinary program? “Definitely the quantity cooking, because that is like mass cooking, which is what I do in my dad’s business. It is always a lot of food at once (when) baking it, and then also all the knife skills and stuff.”

Read more from Comstock Park: 
Finding focus and a fresh start through auto mechanics
‘Your brain is so powerful’

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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