Ready, set … cook! | NevadaAppeal.com

Ready, set … cook!

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
A tasty parfait was created by Culinary Team 2 at the ProStart competition at Carson High School on Wednesday.
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Forget the high five, the pep talk, the reassuring hand on the shoulder.

Josh Lane, 17, not one to forget the truly important details, passed out hairnets to his teammates in the back hall of the culinary department minutes before the ProStart competition got under way last week.

“I think we’ll be successful,” he said. “The dishes are different from what I’ve made before, and I’m confident that they’ll work.”

His teammates, 17-year-old Jeremy Soga and Linda Lang and Ashley Cook, both 16, quickly put on the black nets and headed out to the competition on the second floor of Carson High School.

“I’m very nervous,” Ashley said. “I’ve never had to do something like this before.”

They were Team 2 of 11 to compete. With 10 minutes to prep and then one hour to cook and clean up, there was little room for error.

Each team had to prepare an appetizer, main dish and dessert. Team 2 got to work – Josh slicing potatoes, Linda tearing the ends from spinach leaves and giving them to Ashley and Jeremy starting one of the two burners allotted to each team.

“This is a very difficult competition,” said John Hurzel, a judge as well as owner of Grandma Hattie’s and chef at the Governor’s Mansion. “You’re in a real confined work place and you don’t have a commercial stove to work with. The kids have to adapt themselves and what they’re working with to these two burners.”

Judges marked the teams on sanitation, team skills and cooking procedures. That included making sure perishable foods were properly stored at the table and that cross-contamination didn’t occur between foods. It’s a contest where even the smallest details – like menu design – count for points.

“The kids were nervous,” said culinary teacher Penny Reynolds. “They were really nervous earlier, but they have been practicing for 13 weeks, so it’s not like they they’re not ready.”

At the end of the hour, the teams needed two plates to present for viewing – one for presentation to the public and the second for tasting by the judges.

“I think we have a good chance,” said Jeremy. “Everything went OK.”

Their final meal included: spinach salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette, spicy lemon halibut with mixed vegetables and spicy fried potatoes and a crushed blackberry and mandarin orange yogurt cup.

“It went better than I thought,” Linda said.

The 11 teams were primarily made of second- or third-year culinary students, but a couple students had been pulled from the first-year culinary class to compete. Both Josh and Jeremy competed last year, but the experience was new for Linda and Ashley.

As the students practiced together again and again after school over the weeks, they found ways to improve their dishes. That meant discovering the perfect amount of chili powder to use on the halibut, which they thought was a good main dish alternative to the often-chose chicken.

Throughout competition, Josh, the Team 2 leader, kept his teammates on pace and completed many of the final touches himself – pouring the yogurt into dishes, checking the chocolate for readiness, placed the food on the dishes.

At their last practice, they had shortened their prep time to 45 minutes and were easily on schedule when their hour came up Wednesday.

“(Preparation) actually went faster than we planned,” Josh said. “But I think it turned out good.”

Eventually nine students from the culinary arts program will be chosen to participate in the state competition which occurs March 16 in Las Vegas. While other factors are taken into consideration about who goes, Reynolds said the nine often come from the top three teams at the school’s ProStart competition.

Many of these students, like Josh, hope for a future in culinary school.

— Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.