Valencia Classes Help Clermont Resident Realize Culinary Dream


By Dani Moritz-Long

With this week playing host to National Culinarian’s Day — a foodie-inspired July 25th annual holiday — we were eager to cook up some stories featuring some of our favorite Valencia chefs, from long-time professors to students with big ambitions.

On the southern shore of Lake Minneola, nestled between the serene greenery of a public park and a picturesque dock stretching from the shore, is a beachfront restaurant with a Caribbean atmosphere and an American flare. Patrons enjoy tropical dishes with a drink in their hand and their toes in the sand as they look out to the lily pad-strewn lake, or retire to the comfortable indoor dining area for a cool escape from the Florida heat. But no matter their choice, for visitors of Lilly’s on the Lake, life is good.

This is the setting that entrepreneur and former Valencia student Verneka Strom created with her most recent culinary venture, which she named after her daughter, Lilly. Verneka has been a life-long chef with a passion for bringing people together and, after successfully running a small underground Internet café in New York City, moving to Florida and settling down with her family in Clermont, she knew this kind of tropical paradise was the perfect manifestation of her culinary vision.

She also knew the venture would be a lot of work (and undoubtedly it was), but, now, as the restaurant nears its one-year anniversary, she couldn’t picture life any other way.

“It’s hard to say what I love most,” she said “It’s everything. It’s seeing happy people dining, laughing, eating, enjoying the view, trying new recipes, updating old ones. It’s a personal sense of accomplishment. Sometimes it makes me cry tears of joy when I walk around and see people having the best time of their lives, just enjoying life. I feel so grateful and find no greater sense of purpose than by serving the community.”

Thinking about the people who helped make her dream possible, she added, “I am very grateful for the dedicated managers, staff and loyal guests who have made Lilly’s on the Lake their favorite hangout.”

Along the way, as Verneka began building her island paradise, she turned to Valencia’s culinary management program to help her prepare for her entrepreneurial journey. In 2011, she took two courses in culinary management — which ultimately helped her prepare for the opening of Lilly’s on the Lake.

“Taking the food and beverage cost control and purchasing courses have been a tremendous help in my industry,” she said. “While currently managing labor numbers, food and beverage cost can seem like a juggling act. I’m glad I was able to take courses that helped prepare me.”

She’s also grateful for the quality of teaching she experienced at the College.

“My experience at Valencia was amazing,” she said. “I was fortunate to be under some of the best professors at Valencia. One particular instructor who was an inspiration was Chef Ken Bourgoin. He demonstrated the importance of professionalism and care for the industry and his students.”

To learn more about Lilly’s on the Lake or to plan your visit to the Clermont restaurant, visit

1 Comment

  • Vannia Ruiz said:

    Congratulations! Only the sky is the limit. I hope we can join you one of this days at Lily's on the Lake Enjoy your journey.

    AMWed, 27 Jul 2016 09:18:32 +0000Wed, 27 Jul 2016 09:18:32 +0000am16,9:18 am

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