The National ProStart Student Invitational culinary competition is being held this weekend in San Diego - teams of high school students must prepare a 3 course meal in 60 minutes. 37 teams from across the US are participating.
Among its host of rules, the contest has significant limitations that most of us don't face in our home kitchens:
- no running water or electricity
- 2 banquet tables are the workspace for the 4 cooks
- 2 propane burners are the only source of heat to prepare 5 dishes.
A panel of judges will grade them strictly on such things as: sanitation, technique, waste, knife skills. A separate panel conducts a blind judging of the food.
Last week I had the opportunity to see the Georgia team in action at a pre-Nationals demonstration. What a fascinating glimpse into the development of some dedicated and inventive future chefs! The students on Meadowcreek High School's team are repeat Georgia state champions and are looking to improve their top-10 finish from last year's National event. They work with a faculty member (modern day "home ec" teacher) and also with a professional chef mentor. The students developed/adapted the recipes themselves, and worked it into a sample menu offering:
Here's what each of the students did:
Student #1: "Fabricated" the chicken. Started with a whole chicken and cut it, ending up making "airline" chicken breasts that she then filled, rolled, and cooked. Then made a sauce. (question: why is cutting a chicken into pieces called "fabricating"? Seems like it's the opposite!)
Student #2: Prepared vegetable timbales and polenta cakes
Student #3: Made caramel for the bottom of the flans and for sugar baskets. She next stirred up a custard, which she baked into flans in a steam oven over a propane burner (she developed the technique). She also prepared two kinds of berry sauce and hand-whipped berry cream. Lots of tricky techniques in under an hour!
Sorry about the bad pictures! The plating was professional quality but by the time I could get close the 2 servings were being divided and distributed to the 6 randomly-chosen tasters. The appetizer was already gone!
Student #4: Prepared the appetizer from start to finish - mixed up a saffron pasta, rolled it very thin, filled with a shrimp mixture, quickly cooked it, then made a lovely pan sauce.
It was fascinating to see how they took turns with the two burners, and how they kept everything warm, including the plates.
I had a blast watching them cook. Good luck to all the hard-working student chefs!