Six Highland High School students recently participated in a competition that puts a spin on conventional cooking.
Alexis Banks, Avery Wasser, Blake Stulir, Brytani Powell, Christian Zuccarelli and David Dvorak competed against eight other local high schools in the Platinum Chef Team Challenge at Southwestern Illinois College-Sam Wolfe Granite City campus on Oct. 25.
The students were selected from their Culinary Occupations class, an advanced foods class by their teacher Dawn Jones. Jones approached the class about the competition in attempt to gauge their interest and she learned a few were willing to participate.
“A few students in the class have strong backgrounds in the food service industry and have been working in kitchens in Highland. After a few labs with the class, I realized several students were willing to take risks with flavors and preparation of food as well as plate it creatively,” Jones said.
The team participated in two training sessions to prepare for the event.
The goal of the competition was that the students had two hours to prepare a whole menu which includes an appetizer, a salad with dressing, an entree, two vegetables, a starch item and a plated dessert.
“Which, to me, is kind of nerve racking, but I feel like these kiddos did a great job,” Jones said.
On top of preparing the four dishes, the students were put into scenario much like on the popular television show “Chopped,” where contestants have to prepare dishes based off of mystery ingredients. The teams were given four mystery ingredients.
Before the competition, the students prepared during two practice sessions. They already knew that they were going to be making an already challenging mix of flavors by choosing Hawaiian themed food.
The students also had to choose a theme for their menu, and they decided to go with one of the most challenging mix of flavors by making Hawaiian-styled food. But the team said when they heard their mystery items were chicken, steak, green beans and potatoes, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“I was more nervous before we got the ingredients. But once I saw what they were, I was like, ‘This is going to be easier than we thought,’” said Alexis Banks, who was also named team MVP during the competition.
In a small work space made up of three 5-by-3-foot tables with hot plates in substitute of a cooking range and stove, the students got to work. Powell, Zuccarelli, Wasser and Banks cooked, while Stulir and Dvorak washed dishes, ran ingredients and lent moral support.
The team chose to make pineapple salsa served with homemade chips, a chicken and pineapple salad, marinated strip steak over a bed of jasmine rice with some sauteed vegetables and a key lime, mango tart with pineapple sorbet. The team said everything went flawlessly, minus the accidental dropping of a salad, which they were able to salvage in the end.
“It’s a great experience, realizing like, if something messes up, you always have time to pick it up. You don’t want to sit their and stare at it. You just kind of want to get back into it and makeup for it,” Powell said.
While the team did not place in any category, their teacher said their performance was remarkable.
“They really preformed well under pressure. They had some mistakes, bobbles here and there. But they still showed fantastic promise at the end,” Jones said.