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Carson culinary wins state again, onto nationals

Culinary Arts students Max DeMar, Dakota Martinez, Natalie Hachenberger and Leslie Villanueva in the kitchen at Carson High School Thursday.
Brad Coman | Nevada Appeal

One of the most famous movie lines of the last 20 years or so — “Failure is not an option” — can best describe the mentality of Carson High’s culinary teams.

Carson’s ability to deal with the unexpected is a major reason why the program under the tutelage of Penny Reynolds won its 11th straight state title. Now Carson’s culinary team will compete for the national title when the National Championships are held in Anaheim, Calif., April 17-22.

The team of Max DeMar, Natalie Hachenberger, Christian Kivi, Dakota Martinez and Leslie Villanueva recently came away with Carson’s 11th straight title.

Carson’s novice team of Tylor Lagier, Kierra Bell, Sam Bachhman, Katie Gutierrez and Rebekka Merriner, all competing for the first time, more than held its own, taking fourth at state. In all, Carson’s students took home $34,500 in scholarships from the state competition.

Reynolds said Carson’s experience at the state competition serves it well as her students who compete know what the judges are looking for. And Carson will continue to have high expectations.

All the members of the state title team are juniors while all the members of the novice team are sophomores.

But Reynolds said her students can’t rest on their laurels. “The competition has gotten tougher every single year,” said Reynolds about state.

At state, students must prepare an appetizer, meal and dessert while being provide with just two tables and two butane burners. That means the students have to bring all other equipment required while meeting health codes.

That means students have to bring their own water at the right temperature as they are also not provided with running water. And the students have one hour to prepare the appetizer, meal and dessert.

Students are judged on such criteria as menu planning, the price of the meal, sanitation, safety, knife cuts, chicken fabrication and of course how their food tastes.

Carson’s appetizer, meal and dessert it prepared would cost about $33 at many restaurants.

The appetizer was seared Ahi tuna with slaw, avocado and sweet pea puree.

The meal, using chicken thighs, was hand ground chichen sausage, red bell pepper sauce, scalloped potatoes, brussell sprouts and carrots.

Dessert was vanilla sponge cake, orange meringue, chocolate sauce and raspberry gelee, sugar designs and a Cheyenne truffle.

DeMar found out at state how he had to improvise when his grinder didn’t clamp onto the table. This after Dunbar was told to bring a C clamp — but didn’t.

DeMar and his teammates ended up clamping the grinder to a cutting board and holding the board. So students learn how to perform under pressure with teamwork.

“You have to let some things go in the heat of the moment,” Hachenberger said. “I really appreciate my team and working as a team.” Hachenberger said she prefers the team competitions as opposed to individual contests.

DeMar and Kivi competed on last year’s state title team while Martinez was an alternate. The pressure, though, was no less for Martinez. “It was crazy,” she said.

But Martinez said about this year, “it was a little bit easier going back. I knew what I was getting into.”

Carson took seventh at nationals last year and the obvious goal this year is to win or at least improve on last year’s finish. “Top three is within their reach,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she has 173 students in the culinary program, who added the program doesn’t receive district funds. There were 53 students who tried out to be on the teams who competed at state. She said about half the students are thinking about culinary careers.

The program has raised $3,000 for its trip to nationals as of Thursday and needs to raise $9,000 more. A fundraising dinner and silent auction featuring what the teams prepared for the state competition will be held Thursday, April 2 at Silver Oak Golf Course. No host bar is at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at Carson High or by calling Reynolds, (775) 283-1771. Those who would like to donate to the program can call Reynolds or contact her at preynolds@carson.k12.us. Donations can be sent to Carson High Culinary Arts, P.O. Box 603, Carson City 89702.