Vickroy: High school chefs face off in first regional competition
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy March 20, 2013 10:08PM
Students worked off this
vegetable minestrone recipe
for the soup competition:
4 C beef stock
2 C cabbage, chopped
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 t Italian seasoning
¼ t garlic salt
¼ t pepper
1 (15 oz.) can kidney beans, drained
1. Prepare all vegetables.
2. In a stockpot, combine stock, cabbage, undrained tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, parsley, Italian seasoning, garlic salt and pepper.
3. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
4. Stir in beans. Heat through. Serve hot.
Updated: April 22, 2013 11:04AM
Team Argo added butter to the soup recipe.
Team Richards rolled its cookies in powdered sugar — twice.
Team Sandburg refused to reveal its special touches.
“It’s not a secret if we tell you,” senior Heather Udowitz said. “When we win, then we’ll tell you.”
Eight culinary teams competed Tuesday in the First Regional Culinary Competition for area high schools, sponsored by the Moraine Area Career System and hosted by Argo High School.
Working in groups of three, the students prepared vegetable minestrone soup, Caesar salad, chicken Parmesan with pasta and Italian sugar cookies for dessert.
They had two hours to chop, sauté, mix, boil and bake four servings of each dish. They worked from identical recipes but were free to mix things up to their liking. One team, for example, created a Parmesan cheese bowl on which to place its Caesar salad.
In the end, Team Richards was named overall winner.
Richards sophomore Doaa Shehadeh revealed that she took the rind of the Parmesan cheese left over from the salad and put it in the soup to give it a flavor boost.
Her teammate Rachel Johnsen, a junior, said the girls also went beyond the recipe seasoning suggestion of salt and pepper for the chicken and sprinkled in some Italian spices.
When it came to the cookies, senior Jasmine Ortega not only rolled the pastry bites twice in sugar, she added additional pecans to the dough.
Beyond their special touches, Jasmine said, “I think we won because we worked really well together and helped each other out.”
When one girl forgot to put the pasta on to cook, another reminded her to do so.
Having each other’s backs, they agreed, was something their teacher Rob Staudacher taught them.
“He taught us really well,” Rachel said. “We practiced a lot.”
Staudacher returned the compliments.
“It’s all them, they’re great kids,” he said. “They’re hardworking and they devoted a lot of time to practice.”
The event kicked off in the newly remodeled culinary kitchens at the Summit high school at 10 a.m. sharp. Each team had its own work station that included a stove, sink and counter area. They all had access to tables filled with ingredients, which ranged from canned tomatoes and packaged beef broth to fresh onions, carrots, garlic and celery.
In addition to flavor, they were being judged on knife cuts, texture, doneness and attention to sanitation.
Mike Cognetti, the contemporary technology department chair at Argo, said the event was at least three years in the making. Local culinary arts teachers have been working with MACS — a consortium of high school districts 217, 218, 220, 229, 230 and 231 — to choose a date and a site for the daylong competition.
Now, with the first competition under their belts, the schools hope to make it an annual event.
MACS assistant director Suzanne Kendryna said, “We work to foster collaboration among these regional schools in career and technical areas by sharing facilities and expertise.”
Sara Szablewski, culinary instructor at Andrew High School in Tinley Park, said, “This is a great opportunity for students across the region to showcase their skills and see how they compare with other students in this area.”
Argo Community High School District 217 Supt. Kevin O’Mara, who also has a background in the culinary world, having worked as general manager of the Pump Room for a time, said he was thrilled to see the project finally come together.
“It’s good to see so many kids interested in cooking and good nutrition,” he said.
At noon, the students were told to put down their utensils and step away from their creations. It was time for Chicago-area chefs and restaurateurs to judge their work.
Chuck Pine, executive chef and owner of Chuck’s Southern Comfort Café in Burbank, judged the soup.
Elliot McCarty, head chef at D’Masti Catering in Blue Island, judged the cookies.
Mark Rimkus, executive chef at Flo & Santos Pizza and Pierogi in Chicago’s South Loop, had the hearty task of tasting all eight dishes of chicken Parmesan.
Juliette O’Brill, high school representative and culinary specialist at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute, scored the salads.
Their tallies were totaled and Richards was awarded the first-place trophy. Shepard took second. Argo came in third.
After the award ceremony, and after the dishes were washed and put away, the judges chatted with the young chefs. For all of them, the restaurant world was a second career choice made late in their 20s or early 30s.
Pine complimented the Argo team for its flavorful soup. Rimkus reminded all not to forget to season at the start of the dish and again before serving.
While Ortega plans to study business at the University of Chicago this fall, many of the competitors, including Eisenhower’s Luis Calderon and DeJon Henderson, have their sights set on entering the culinary field after high school graduation.
Rimkus warned that the field is not as glamorous as TV would have people believe.
“It’s hard work, long hours, at very low pay to start,” he said. “You need to know this going into it.”
But McCarty added, “If this is your dream, just stick with it. It will seem overwhelming at times but it will come to you.”