As a teenager, Kelli Payne found a real joy in cooking thanks to her nutrition teacher at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach. Talk of the future had been on her mind throughout high school. As she honed her skills with her teacher Wendy Jo, Kelli soon realized not only did she enjoy baking, she was great at it! When she learned her high school was involved with the C-CAP Hampton Roads program, she immediately jumped at the chance to use their resources. After Kelli participated in the Competition for Scholarships, C-CAP awarded her a scholarship that allowed her to earn her Associate’s degree in Baking & Pastry from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia.
After graduating from college, opportunities took Kelli to Vermont and Miami, with a few points in between. Always making pastry, sometimes baking cookies, and other times kneading bread, Kelli pushed herself to pick up skills and expand her knowledge as she moved from place to place and job to job. Fortuitous circumstances in Miami would also allow her to meet and befriend another C-CAP alum, Gabrielle Calle– CIA alum and Olésay Scholarship winner– who encouraged and advocated for Kelli to utilize C-CAP’s alumni resources to keep building upon her success.
Kelli is grateful that she found the hospitality industry, which she believes provides the best opportunities for relocating and living in new and exciting places. Though she acknowledges the work is tough, she believes that working hard is the single most important thing in the industry. She also takes inspiration from the influential chefs she’s worked under, including her tough-as-nails-Tennessee Dad, Jimmy Ray Payne, who she proudly proclaims bakes the best rum cake in town.
She’s not shy to say that the road to success can be long and difficult, remembering how she once ruined a wedding cake when she slammed the oven door and collapsed the chiffon cake inside with no time left to rectify the situation. “They all can’t be winners.” Knowing this, Kelli encourages young chefs to “Work harder, stay longer, want it more. You will get there. I did.”
Today, Kelli is an Executive Pastry Chef in Philadelphia and proudly claims, “CCAP was and is the building block of my career.” When she’s not managing her kitchen, she is using her talents to give back to C-CAP teachers by leading professional development workshops. “One of the best things you can do for your community…could be anything to help others learn.”