News | May 13, 2022

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Aspiring chef turns up heat in the kitchen and on the court

Contributors: James Greco, Photography

Kierra “Kiki” Adams may wield a competitive edge over her peers when she follows her dream into the heated atmosphere of culinary school and restaurant kitchens. As a guard on FGCU’s women’s high-flying basketball team, she is already conditioned to hustle, spend long hours on her feet and use all of her 6-foot height to her advantage.

“I would say my height is an asset, as I feel like it is in everyday life,” the resort and hospitality management major said. “Being able to reach the top shelves (in a kitchen) is always a plus. I have good hand-eye coordination, and that does help with my ability when handling pots and pans.”

Photo shows FGCU student
“It’s very fast paced,” Kiki Adams says of the restaurant kitchen atmosphere. “You have to have good communication with the people you work with.”

Adams has lots of practice firing up sauté pans this school year, in addition to firing passes to teammates on the court. Amid a thrilling 2021-22 season that saw the Green and Blue win its ninth ASUN Championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second round, Adams shouldered added pressure to perform. She completed a two-semester internship as a line cook in a restaurant at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs. The internship required for her degree had Adams jumping from four-hour practice sessions at Alico Arena to eight-hour shifts tossing salads and frying up calamari at the resort’s Tarpon Bay restaurant.

During peak season, the restaurant sat 150-200 patrons a night, the aspiring chef said.

“It’s very fast paced,” she said. “You have to have good communication with the people you work with. You want to make sure you’re on the same page when the tickets start coming in, and you have to get everything in the order out at the same time.”

A restaurant kitchen career seems like a recipe for success for someone who savors the pressure-cooker of collegiate sports and Food Network competition shows. Jennifer McGurk, who coordinates internships in FGCU’s School of Resort & Hospitality Management, didn’t have to talk to Adams long to figure out a placement where the aspiring chef could hone her knife skills while fulfilling the 1,000 hours of interning she needed.

Photo shows FGCU student
Kierra Adams prepping for service at Tarpon Bay, where she completed a 1,000-hour internship.

“I soon realized that the Hyatt Regency would be ideal for Kiki’s personality and career goals,” McGurk said. “They brought her in for an interview and agreed that she would be a great fit. They loved her warm personality, interest in culinary, and that she was part of the basketball team.”

Cooking has long been on the front burner for Adams. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and moved to Lawrenceville, Georgia, just before starting high school. Watching her grandmother and her father prepare Southern classics like fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread as a youth inspired her to learn how to cook.

“They make me cook quite often when I come home,” she said.

With a full plate of academics, including an entrepreneurship minor, athletics and work, Adams doesn’t have much time to cook for pleasure. Her go-to dish when she does? Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp or chicken. Another recipe she picked up from work: fried Brussels sprouts with gochujang aioli and cashews.

“I’ve made them for my teammates,” she said. “Everyone’s like, ‘no, Brussels sprouts are gross.’ But if they try them, they usually like them.”

Turns out Adams may have a bit of the food influencer in her game already – before she’s even started her formal culinary education. At FGCU, she’s been focusing academically on the business of hospitality while taking a couple food and beverage courses offered by chef-instructor James Fraser. “Kierra was an outstanding student,” he said. “I really appreciate and admire our student athletes and recall how exciting it was when I saw her in a brief game highlight on a national news clip.”

Although she’s a junior academically, Adams has three years of NCAA eligibility. In addition to the success she has enjoyed on the court, Adams has loved the opportunity to travel with teammates to places like Disney World, Mexico and Puerto Rico. She’ll be back on campus to practice with them over the summer, but not until after another very special trip: a four-week study abroad program in Florence where she’ll learn about Italian culinary and cultural traditions.

Maybe she’ll even have a chance to cook fettuccine Alfredo.