Kitchen-tested

Howard's ARL wins state high school culinary competition for scholarships, shot at U.S. title

March 08, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Alexander Morris gently plated seasoned chicken pieces atop creamy risotto and garnish, while Tyler Weedon whisked a fish reduction, a brownish sauce. Nearby, Kara Lovalvo used a meat thermometer to measure the heat of a lobster tail, and Eric Orlean assembled the dessert - a banana chocolate Bavarian.

Though preparing the gourmet items posed a challenge for the culinary-minded teenagers from Howard County, the kitchen conditions made Wednesday's statewide cooking contest for high-schoolers even more daunting: Teams had to make the meal in one hour using only two butane burners for heat.

The team from Applications and Research Laboratory, a career academy in Ellicott City, used every second to create a three-course masterpiece from scratch. The young chefs felt confident about their effort, and for good reason: When all was said and done, they were named the winners.

"I feel great," Lovalvo said. "We were a bit skeptical, [but] it turned out great. We have a great teacher and a great mentor. We just worked hard and tried to fix anything that we could."

Morris, 18, a senior from Ellicott City, also felt happy with the results. "The teamwork was very good," he said. "I have a passion for this. I like making art on a plate."

The competition, called the Maryland ProStart Student Invitational culinary competition, is in its fifth year. The event is open to all Maryland high schools that use the ProStart curriculum, a program devised by the National Restaurant Association for use in high schools. The two-year program offers culinary and management classes to prepare students for careers in the hospitality industry.

This year, 23 teams showed up at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt for the cooking portion of the competition. More than $600,000 in scholarships to cooking schools and colleges that offer a culinary curriculum was up for grabs. Each member of the winning team receives more than $35,000 in scholarship offers and goes on to the national competition in San Diego next month.

The rules are unforgiving: Using two 8-foot tables for prep and two butane burners for heat, the teams prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert in an hour.

And no running water could be used in the process.

Teams can have up to four students and one alternate. Judges scored on food safety and sanitation procedures, cooking methods, taste, teamwork and menu difficulty. The groups, which are required to bring their own ingredients to the competition, work on their menu before the contest and submit it to the judges the day of the event.

The students also must stay within budget, which is an important part of the food business, said Marshall Weston Jr., executive vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland Education Foundation, which runs the competition.

"You have to be able to cost out your recipes and make money," Weston said. "That is what this is. It's a business."

Menu items can get very sophisticated. It's not unusual to see complicated veal or lobster recipes or an occasional crab cake souffle, Weston said.

"They don't want to do something that is boring," he said. "Anything that you see on television, our students are making something very close to what you are seeing on TV. They are not just making cookies."

The culinary arts have undergone a surge in popularity, industry experts say, thanks in no small part to the popularity of cooking- related TV shows on cable networks. Many of the students who competed said they are fans of Duff Goldman, whose Charm City Cakes is featured on the Food Network show Ace of Cakes.

That's a far cry from the way the industry was viewed as recently as a decade ago, Weston said.

"A lot of people felt that food service was a dead-end job," Weston said. "Over time, people have begun to see that you can make a legitimate career in food service and culinary arts."

The scholarship winnings can be an key part to such aspirations. Lovalvo said she is considering Johnson & Wales University, the Culinary Institute of America and the New England Culinary Institute.

"It eases the burden of which college to chose from because of tuition," she said.

At the competition, the teams drew plenty of support from the family and friends. Lovalvo's father, Tony, adjusted a tiny digital camera perched atop a tripod as his 17-year-old daughter worked with her teammates.

"I want her to feel comfortable in the field that she chooses," he said. "She's got a great start here."

A burst of applause rippled through the room as the ARL team put the last plate on the tray, signaling their completion.

"They worked extremely well under pressure," said Weedon's mother, Karen. "I think they had fun."

Eric Olean, an 18-year-old senior who was an alternate on last year's team, made the most of his starting position this year. He completed the difficult dessert that required him to make a chocolate mold in the shape of a tear and fill it with a banana and chocolate Bavarian.

"I focused. We practiced a lot," he said. "There was a lot of prepping. We were on the same page."

Two Baltimore County schools - Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, and Sollers Point Technical High - finished second and third, respectively. The members of both teams also took home scholarships.

Carver Center took first place in the management portion competition, followed by the Howard County ARL and Howard High.

winning tastes

Appetizer: Shellfish gateau

Entree: "Flight" of Chicken

Dessert: Banana chocolate Bavarian

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