Perhaps it was the exquisitely shaped, 3-D, life-size chocolate butterfly perched upon a mousse of strawberry, kiwi, oats and pecans that did it for the ProStart judges.
Or could it have been the selection of meat used in the entrée of the three-course meal - ostrich tenderloin.
Or it could be that the team of students working on the meal - Andrew Coleman, Jennifer DeRosa, Troy Szczotka and Kelly Taylor - finished up several minutes early.
But whatever the reason, judges awarded them first place in one of the two categories in the state competition last week - the first time ever.
"I hugged Troy, and I don't think I've ever touched Troy in my entire life," Kelly said.
"You could say I made kind of a scene," Andrew said. "I stood up and slammed my hands down on the table, and the drinks jumped up off the table."
Students were at a dinner at Las Vegas' Tuscany Casino when they were awarded first place with an all-time high score of 91.2.
Unlike the CHS team, many of the other 14 teams in the competition received guidance from professional chefs from Las Vegas casinos, like the Bellagio, the Palms, the Rio and the Aladdin.
The CHS team worked with executive chef Mike Ramos from the Dayton Valley Golf Course
"No one outside of Vegas has ever won," said CHS culinary teacher Penny Reynolds. "In other words, we blew away the Vegas casinos."
"I knew they had it in them," Ramos said. "I knew they had the potential. They're sharp. And they're all working at the moment in restaurants."
Ramos introduced the team to the idea of using ostrich meat, and is supplying it to them.
"You won't find it in most restaurants," Jennifer said. "It will probably stand out more (at the competition) than others."
"It's really good because it's lean and doesn't have a lot of fat on it," Andrew said.
The team will use the same three-course menu for the national competition, except for a small modification in vegetables. To prepare for the nationals, the team will work after school in upcoming weeks and during all of spring break.
The menu includes:
• appetizer - medallion of poached salmon on a filled tortelli (pasta)
• entrée - seared ostrich tenderloin with lingonberry and porcini mushroom sauce
• dessert - champagne mousse with strawberries and kiwi atop an oats-and-pecan crust.
The state competition provided the students with plenty of pressure.
"I was really nervous, I was kind of shaky, and I started doing everything backwards," Andrew said.
Reynolds and Ramos watched the team through a small window. They gasped as the students carried out the plates for presentation and the chocolate butterfly broke in half.
Like a pro, Troy pushed the pieces into the top of the mousse, and the judges never knew the better.
The national competition will be televised on The Food Network, and the students will work at a booth in front of a large audience.
"There's going to be a lot more people there," Troy said.
The team still needs about $6,000 of the $13,000-plus-cost trip to make the April 29-May 4 competition. Expenses include airfare, hotels and uniforms.
Attorney Lawrence Winking has donated $100 and John Hurzel from Grandma Hattie's gave $500. The culinary students are selling raffle tickets at school and seeking donations from businesses. Donations may be sent to Penny Reynolds, Carson High School, 1111 N. Saliman Road, Carson City, 89701.
"Any community support would be greatly appreciated," she said.
• Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.
CHS winners at the state culinary competition in Las Vegas
• Students Andrew Coleman, Jennifer DeRosa, Troy Szczotka and Kelly Taylor took first place in the hot foods competition. They each received a $2,000 scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America, a $2,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Las Vegas and a $3,000 scholarship to Johnson & Wales University. If they win in the national competition, they receive full scholarships to CIA or J&W.
• Students Kristen Dhu, Whitney Hoote, Rachel Neitzke and Ashley Standridge took third place in the culinary-management competition. They each received a $500 scholarship to CIA and a $1,000 scholarship to J&W.
WHAT: National Culinary Competition. More than $6,000 is needed to cover students' airfare, hotel and uniforms.
WHEN: April 29-May 4
WHERE: Charlotte, N.C.
CALL: To donate, call Penny Reynolds at Carson High School at 283-1771
Former CHS culinary students now in college
• Johnson & Wales University student Joseph Padilla of Carson City, who is pursuing an associate degree in Culinary Arts from the College of Culinary Arts at the Denver campus.
• Megan Anderson, Daniel Davis and Jeremiah Schenzel, all of Carson City, are pursuing associate degrees in Culinary Arts from the College of Culinary Arts at the J&W Providence, R.I., campus.