Students compete in inaugural N.C. cooking competition
As judges with clipboards circled around them, a team of students dressed in white coats and chef hats worked to prepare a meal of pork chops, creamy potatoes, salad and no-bake cheesecake at the Durham Convention Center on Monday.
“Twenty seconds!” a judge called out, as the students neared their one-hour time limit.
Shane Locklear, a senior at Hoke County High School, which is near Jacksonville, carefully poured sauce on a plate of sautéed pork shop and potatoes, and then gently laid asparagus on top.
Fellow senior Jesse Howland brought two plates of cheesecake that were sitting in cream and caramel sauce and set them on trays to be presented to the judges and the public.
A cheer went up in the room when they finished. The applause was audible above the sound of sizzling and beating that came from other students in the room who were preparing meals or setting up for the culinary competition.
Eight high schools from around the state sent students to Durham on Monday to compete in the N.C. ProStart Invitational culinary category. The competition was sponsored by the N.C. Hospitality Education Foundation, Golden Corral, US Foods, among others, and also included a business management-focused competition that included eight teams.
All the students involved Monday are enrolled in ProStart classes. The national, two-year program teaches culinary and business skills to high school students.
Scholarship awards were available to the top three teams in each category. The winning teams will also travel to Minneapolis to compete in a national competition hosted by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
“It’s a lot of chaos, but it’s a lot of fun,” Beth Wilsey, a ProStart teacher at Northside High School in Jacksonville, said of the competition.
Students in her class were in their first year of the two-part culinary program, she said, which teaches knife skills and the procedure for butchering a chicken. For the competition, they were preparing pan-seared salmon over couscous, a spinach and strawberry salad, and lemon parfait.
The competition teaches good sanitation practices and teamwork, she said.
“I think it’s important for the kids; they learn time management skills, which is important in any field,” she said.
Barry Oxendine, a culinary teacher at Hoke County High School, said his students started preparing in January for the competition. They had to find a meal that they could make with only two butane burners in one hour. While he said the team went over their time limit, he said the presentation looked good.
“I think it went well,” he said. “I’m happy they finished.”
On the other side of the room, Roby Luffman of Mocksville sat in the audience watching the team from Davie County High School, which included his granddaughter, Kathryn Bradshaw, getting set up. He said she’s cooked for the family, including preparing a shrimp dish last week that he said was “very tasty.”