Chef honored for teaching skills

James Bryant (left), culinary instructor at Berkmar High, has been named the ProStart Teacher of the Year.

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
James Bryant (left), culinary instructor at Berkmar High, has been named the ProStart Teacher of the Year.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

In the 1980s, James Bryant started his working life as a retail manager – “You know, working 100 hours a week and not doing anything else,” he said.

But the Miami native changed gears and went into another challenging arena: teaching. For 26 years, he stayed in his hometown to teach home economics, a class that was then focused on basic life skills.

“In those days, they let you go in any direction you felt comfortable with, and I knew the basics of cooking and financial planning,” he said. “I spent a lot of time helping kids understand bank accounts and interest rates.”

But in 2012, Florida turned home ec into a culinary arts class, and Bryant became a student to master the new material.

“They provided workshops, and I did internships in restaurants,” he said. “That was kind of a shock, learning how the back and front of the house worked and seeing what you don’t see when you go in as a patron.”

Bryant was a fast learner and quickly became noted for his teaching abilities. Before moving to Georgia in 2021, he was named Teacher of the Year by ProStart, an industry-supported culinary arts and restaurant management program for high schoolers. Now, as the culinary arts teacher at Berkmar High in Lilburn, Bryant has won the same award and will be feted at the Georgia Restaurant Association’s Grace Awards next week. In addition, his student competition team was named ProStart’s Georgia champion in March.

“There’s been a lot of excitement around the program since we won the title,” said Bryant. “I have about 220 students with a waiting list of about 400.”

Before Bryant’s arrival, Berkmar’s program was largely focused on eating, he said. “The chef before me fed everyone all the time. I’m more into competing. At the same time, I’m slowly turning everyone onto skills that will last with them forever.”

Those skills include more than food safety and knife handling.

“When you compete, it’s important to come out of your comfort zone,” Bryant said. “If you want to grow, you have to put yourself out there and find out where your strengths and weaknesses are. These students learn to speak in front of people; at a competition, they talk to each other, to the judges. It’s important to be able to express yourself. That’s especially hard with this generation that’s so caught up with standing behind their phones.”

Along with the competition teams, Bryant works with three levels of culinary classes that he runs as true to a real restaurant as possible. And he brings in industry experts to talk to students about careers and opportunities.

“The goal is to put them in a position where they can go right into the industry if they want,” he said. “A lot of them start off saying, ‘I want to be a chef,’ but once they get in here, they’re not so sure. I just try to give them a taste of what it’s like so they can make an educated decision.”

Bryant will receive his ProStart award on Nov. 30; details are online at Information about Berkmar High is at

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