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Cooking up a future in food

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Cooking up a future in food

female chef in white coat in kitchen

Michaela Marsh has battled an uncertain childhood, mental illness and self-sabotage, yet the determined 20-year-old has taken her passion for food and is turning it into a career.

Marsh, a high school graduate of Wausau Area Virtual Education and a student and fellow in Culinary Management at Chippewa Valley Technical College, will graduate with an associate degree in the program on Thursday, December 14. She also will give a commencement speech to her fellow graduates.

The recipe for her success has been a dash of confidence, a sprinkle of inner strength and a cup of courage.

Marsh had her first experience mixing ingredients in third grade when she made a smoothie for her mom on Mother's Day.

"I threw every sugary thing possible in there, and then I had to add ice cubes," she said. "We had those plastic ice cubes. I didn't realize they were plastic. I mixed it up and there were bits of plastic in there."

That didn't stop her from loving the process and art of food creation, but cooking in her early years looked quite a bit different than it does now.

Marsh's family didn't have much money to buy food. Until she was in seventh grade, Marsh honed her culinary skills by digging through the cupboard and doing her best to put unlikely foods together.

In seventh grade, making meals became her chore, which put a damper on her passion, she said. 

The strictness surrounding the act of cooking changed her outlook. She dreaded preparing food. Her home life was difficult, and she became depressed. 

Professional help, a change in living situations and a different school gave her a new perspective. After graduating from the virtual school, Marsh set her sights on finding her passion again.

"I still really wanted to go to culinary school, but I also want to open my own business someday, so I wanted to take business management classes too," she said. "Then I found a school that does both."

Melissa Tok, CVTC Culinary Management instructor, said Marsh is driven and always wants to do her best.

"From day one, I knew Michaela (Marsh) was going to be the student that gives 110 percent every day," Tok said. "To say she did not disappoint is an understatement. Michaela (Marsh) has thrived in the CVTC environment and credits this program for giving her a glimpse into a future she didn't know was possible."

Marsh, a self-described over-achiever, is president of the Culinary Club and is graduating with honors. She is finishing up her last week and looking forward to continuing her teaching fellowship in the Culinary Management department for one more semester.

"A big piece of Michaela's (Marsh's) fellowship position is to help the chefs prepare for demonstrations in class, miscellaneous tasks in the kitchen and collaborate with other departments from CVTC to provide students with our services," Tok said. "She is sitting in on classes to learn more about teaching styles and how the classroom looks from the other side of the butcherblock."

Marsh said she has changed so much in her two years at CVTC. She has learned to ask for help – something that was almost impossible for her to do in her younger years. Her newfound confidence will help her reach her dream of becoming a food developer and create a farm to table café.

"My first semester here, I didn't picture where I am right now," she said. "I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And graduation isn't enough. It's just a step in proving to myself that what I'm doing is worth it."

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