By Matthew Zabierek
WALLINGFORD — Lyman Hall High School senior Jules Esposito will appear on celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s talk show on Friday to compete in a cooking competition with other high school students from across the country.
Esposito, a culinary arts student, competed for a $25,000 scholarship in the show’s first ever “Cook Your Way to Culinary School” competition. She competed with three other finalists on the episode, which will air Friday at 10 a.m. on ABC.
“It was an incredible experience just to be around people, celebrities of that caliber, just to be in their presence was really an incredible experience,” said Esposito, who grew up watching Ray’s shows. “I grew up with her on my TV every day, so to go there was a surreal experience.”
In December, Esposito entered a contest to appear on the show by submitting a cooking demonstration video.
“A month later, I had completely forgotten about it, and they called me and the caller ID said, ‘New York, New York,’ and I didn’t know who it was and it ended up being The Rachael Ray Show and they said I placed top 10,” she said.
Esposito advanced to the top-four and earned an appearance on the show, which was filmed a couple weeks ago. Interviews of the four students were aired on the show on Tuesday and the competition will air Friday. Due to confidentiality agreements, Esposito couldn’t go into detail about what happened before the episode airs.
Esposito’s love for baking started at a young age. When she was in the eighth grade, she started a baking blog that was eventually noticed by local TV station WTNH, which gave Esposito cooking segments that have aired “almost every other every month for the last five years,” she said.
Esposito lives on the Sheehan High side of town, but chose to attend Lyman Hall in the eighth grade to participate in the school’s culinary arts program. Esposito manages the student-operated food truck business and helped run a pop-up bakery this past December at the HUBCAP Wallingford, 128 Center St.
Sharon Drossopoulos, a teacher in Lyman Hall’s culinary program, said it has been “truly humbling” to watch Esposito’s growth over the past four years.
“She has set the standards so high, not only for herself, but she has helped motivate other students within the program,” Drossopoulos said. “Every single day we come to class and she keeps saying, ‘let’s do something,’ so we kept raising the bar every day until we ended up on national television.”
Esposito credited the training she received at Lyman Hall for helping prepare her for the competition. The program has about 220 students and includes a student-operated restaurant, food truck, catering company, and grab-and-go cafe.
“I really did not know how I would stack up against the competition…,” she said. “So going there and realizing that our program has trained me to compete with my peers was really validating.”
If she wins, Esposito will use the scholarship to attend the Culinary Institute of America and hopes to have her own cooking show on TV one day.
Esposito said she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received from the community recently. She plans to watch the show Friday with classmates.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of love and support by not only my family and friends but the local community,” Esposito said. “Just hearing the support that I have is really heartwarming.”