LU culinary arts alum finds sweet success

It all began with a banana nut muffin. Before Lamar University alumna Bryoni Prentice would go on to participate in the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” Prentice had dreams of sweet success dancing in her head. From humble beginnings in New Orleans, Louisiana, she has always been passionate about the culinary arts, where she found an outlet for her creativity.  bryoni prentice promotion photo
“I loved moving around; I never could sit still,” Prentice said. “Being in the kitchen was something where I felt like I can just be creative. It was a creative outlet.” 

She recalled the first dish she ever made — banana nut muffins. Prentice first tried them at camp and hurriedly recreated the recipe when she arrived home. Since then, she has been on a culinary journey. 
“That was the first thing I ever remember cooking. I always say I knew I wanted to be a chef,” she said. On top of that, she added, Prentice was raised by a single mother who “couldn’t even boil water.” 
“I remember growing up, we were always eating out at restaurants all the time, but I would find myself going back home, trying to recreate the dish, trying to figure out and pull out the flavors,” she said. “So, I knew early on that this is what I like to do. I’ve never been one to just kind of be idle and so being in the kitchen gave me that creativity and kept me on my toes.” 
In high school, she practiced her culinary skills by cooking for people during the holidays — always the one in the kitchen. When she began in LU’s Hospitality, Administration and Culinary Arts program, Prentice faced a difficult decision.  “I tried to figure out what direction I wanted to go because there were so many different avenues,” she said. “The possibilities were endless.” 
It was just by mere chance that Prentice would attend the program at Lamar University, she said, adding that she didn’t even remember applying.  
bryony prentice decorating cookies“I knew some of my friends were going there and so that was just kind of it,” she said. Upon seeing the kitchen for the first time, however, Prentice knew she belonged.  “I remember walking into that building and just being in awe of the commercial kitchen,” she said. “It just sparked something in me where I was like, ‘This is where I need to be.’” 
Looking back on her time since attending LU, Prentice reflects on her philosophy regarding a work-life balance and what has changed since she graduated.  
“When you’re in college, you have time to study, you have time to get into the kitchen, you have time to be creative, but when you get out, you have to be able to manage. I always say it is a huge work-life balance that you have to value, right? It’s also just responsibility and integrity because you can put out any kind of product. But is your product going to be something that, at the end of the day, you’re proud of?” Prentice said. “You have to realize that every little thing you do is shaping you for what’s coming next. You just got to keep pushing forward. Having a daily agenda is what you need to kind of be focused on, knowing that every day is leading you to where you want to be.” 
After graduating from LU in 2008, Prentice’s career began. She held an internship at MCM Elegante Hotel with chef Chuck Harris — another LU alumnus — and eventually moved to Houston to become a culinary arts instructor.  Prentice admitted that she also loved teaching; however, it wasn’t until a Bible study session that she remembered where her heart lay.  
“The pastor’s wife was on stage and talked about how 90 percent of people go to school for one thing and they do not have a career in it,” Prentice said. “It was something that just sparked in my head. ‘I know that my gift is cooking. Why am I just not cooking?’” 
That weekend, she began making menus and, from sheer word-of-mouth, Prentice began booking chef gigs and serving up decadent five-course meals in clients’ homes. Soon, an executive from the Food Network noticed her work — not with fine dining, but with cookies. 
The casting director of the network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” first contacted her on social media, though Prentice admitted she had never seen the show.  
“It was so surreal. (The casting director) said, ‘I’m going to send you an episode. I want you to watch it and I’ll give you two days to let me know if you’re interested.’ I’m an adrenaline junkie. I feed off stuff like that,” Prentice said. “And the crazy part of this is, I don’t even like making cookies.” 
During the middle of her family’s move from Dallas to New Orleans, the Food Network put her on a plane to Knoxville, Tennessee. A driver was even waiting for her in the airport.  When she arrived, Prentice hit the ground running and had the experience of a lifetime. The most challenging part of the show, however, wasn’t the actual baking, Prentice said, it was how she would be portrayed to the potential viewers. 
“At the end of the day, somebody’s watching you and you don’t know who’s watching. I need to make sure that I am a good example for those people who are following in my footsteps,” she said. “That was my overall goal. You always just have to be mindful of who’s watching and be intentional, knowing that you are paving the way for somebody else.” 
Looking to the future, Prentice is excited for the next step in her culinary arts journey as a private chef and the owner of Bryoni Catering. She is also in the process of renting a space for brunches, girls’ night, couples’ classes and other events, showcasing her talents and culinary creations. 
“I want as many people as possible to see what I can do,” Prentice said, “of what I have to offer.”

Learn more about the Hospitality, Administration and Culinary Arts program