Young cooks compete for pride, scholarships

7 teams of students vie in pots-and-pans test of their culinary skills


Lei Cristine Sp Garcia was a little too excited as she set out to make chocolate Bavarian with her teammates yesterday at the Maryland ProStart Student Invitational culinary competition.

She so furiously whisked egg yolks in a bowl that she sent two pastry spatulas flying from the table onto the floor.

"Ohmigod!" the 17-year-old cried out. But the group quickly recovered as teammate Sarah Draper washed the spatulas off in bleach - which is harder than it sounds, considering that the rules prohibit running water.

It was only a slight misstep for the team from Howard County's Applications and Research Laboratory, as it again took home first place in the competition and thousands of dollars in scholarships to culinary schools across the country.

The Howard team, along with six others from Maryland schools, had to cook under strict rules: Using two butane burners as the only heat source, they had to complete an appetizer, entree and dessert in 60 minutes.

The teams competed for $150,000 in scholarships from Baltimore International College, the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales University, New England Culinary Institute and Stratford University.

The second- and third-place teams - Western School of Technology and Sollers Point Technical High School, both of Baltimore County - also took home scholarships.

In the gymnasium at Reservoir High School in Fulton, seven teams cooked an array of dishes, including vanilla Thai shrimp, sautM-ied pork tenderloin, tuna tartare and blood oranges and green apples. The smells wafted into the bleachers, tempting the taste buds of the crowd of about 100.

For the winning recipe, the Howard team cooked an appetizer of Maryland crab omelet souffle, an entrM-ie of petit rack of veal with saffron risotto and multi-pepper ratatouille and a dessert the students named noir et blanc Bavarian.

The team was especially concerned about the Bavarian holding its shape.

"We've been having trouble with the Bavarian since the day we created it," said the team's instructor, Elaine Heilman. "Even as late as [yesterday] morning, we changed the sauce for the dessert."

But the Bavarian held its shape, and the judges were apparently pleased enough with the sauce to send the four-member team (plus an alternate) and its award-wining menu to compete at the National ProStart Student Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., next month.

Last year's Howard team, made up of the same students as this year's, placed seventh at the national event among 33 teams.

The statewide competition, in its second year, is open to all Maryland high schools that use the ProStart curriculum, composed of culinary and management classes to prepare students for careers in the hospitality industry.

In the ProStart curriculum, students learn basic culinary skills - food safety, knife skills, base recipes - along with management skills, such as how to select menu prices, said Marshall Weston Jr., executive vice president of the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation, which put on the competition.

"It's important to give an avenue to high school students to view hospitality as a career choice," Weston said. "The hospitality industry is huge. ... The industry is always looking for great people to move in."

Jim Bruer, the foundation's chairman, said interest in the hospitality industry has been growing since it has become a part of popular culture with celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and cable channels such as the Food Network.

"It's a career that's really coming into its own," said Bruer, owner of Maggie's restaurant in Westminster. "It's becoming more and more of a career choice now, rather than happenstance."

Howard team member Aurielle Austin plans to join the industry by pursuing a career in hotel management after she attends Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. She said that after being raised in an artistic family - her brothers are musicians and her parents draw and write poems - she needed to find her own niche and discovered cooking.

"I just wanted to be able to express art in a different way," said Austin, 18.

The best

Winning menu, with suggested prices:

Appetizer: Maryland Crab Omelet Souffle

Lump crabmeat immersed in a reduction of shallots, cream, Old Bay, lemon juice and sherry that is encased in a delicate omelet souffle and garnished with guacamole, crispy bacon matchsticks, and sauteed tomatoes and leeks. $13.95.

EntrM-ie: Petit Rack of Veal with Saffron Risotto and Multi-pepper Ratatouille

Pan-fried petite rack of veal with a baby eggplant and bell pepper ratatouille served with a creamy saffron risotto and Haricots Verts. $22.25.

Dessert: Noir et Blanc Bavarian

Chocolate Bavarian laced with a hint of cardamom, topped with a white chocolate banana Bavarian, held together in an elegant marbled chocolate shell, served with a fresh strawberry sauce and garnished with sweetened coconut. $10.75.

Source: Howard County Schools Applications and Research Laboratory.

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