Jolie Skwiercz has qualified for a U.S. Olympic team, but not in a way you might expect.
A 2001 Farmington High graduate, Skwiercz is part of a team that will prepare pastry and hot food for athletes and others in the organization. She earned her spot with five other chefs after preparing several desserts for judges in North Carolina.
Preparing food for Olympians is not something Skwiercz ever expected to be doing.
"My boss was on the website for the American Culinary Federation, and he saw there was a pastry opening (on the Olympic team)," she said. Michael Herr, who is no longer with Skwiercz's employer, Oakland Hills Country Club, encouraged her to try out.
To apply, she sent a resume and cover letter, along with several pictures from her portfolio. "And, of course, I had a good recommendation from my boss," she said.
She was expecting one person from among the five would be selected during judging June 27 and 28 at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC, but said, "They're taking a different approach and taking several people to practice and train, preparing for future Olympics."
Skwiercz was told she would be judged on two plated desserts that she could prepare in six hours to serve to 110 people, two desserts "just for show" and two petit fours. She kept in touch with an Olympic coach as she prepared.
"Obviously, I wanted to be on the right track before driving all the way to North Carolina," she said. "The coaches are great. If you want to do this and get better, they will train you."
One of her desserts included caramel mousse and peanut cake tuile (a very thin cookie) with hazel nut caramel, powdered praline, apple jelly, green apple sorbet, creme anglais and apple coulis (sauce).
"That was just one plate," Skwiercz explained. "The components were small."
Another dessert consisted of chocolate pot au creme with a custard brownie, chocolate sauce, warm cinnamon churro, creme anglais, cinnamon praline biscotti, espresso sorbet and ginger cookie on a raspberry marshmallow and raspberry coulis.
Skwiercz brought many things already prepared, which the coaches recommended.
"That would be something I learned how to do on the road, is how to pack these things," she said. The Olympic pastry team also does everything at home and packs it up when it travels.
The judges provided a lot of feedback and critiques of Skwiercz's efforts. "They were really impressed that I showed them I could do many different things," she said. "They told me I have the fingers for fine work. I just need training ... They actually didn't have anything negative to say to anybody. They look at it as this is your start."
Now that she's started, Skwiercz is preparing for training, which will involve traveling once a month. She is writing a standard-operating-procedure manual for the country club bake shop so that her general manager will be comfortable when she's not there.
Her job as pastry sous chef is a big one. For the club's Fourth of July celebration alone, she worked 14 hours making 250 Hawaiian rolls, 125 baguettes for brats, 150 hamburger buns, 15 fruit pies, seven tortes, plus assorted caramel chocolate pretzels, cookies and bars.
She's also looking for sponsorship; the Olympic Committee pays for her hotel room during training, but she must cover the cost of her flights. The opportunity is an investment. But the rewards for Skwiercz, a 2007 graduate of Oakland Community College, where she competed with the school's ice carving team, could be enormous.
"The way they put it is that it's very intense. You may ask yourself why am I doing this, you may reach a mental breaking point, but in the end, it's worth it. It'll jump-start your career five or 10 years ahead," she said.