Culinary arts kitchen becomes frenzy during competition

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Delectable dessert. Students in Kansas City Public Schools’ culinary arts program show off their culinary skills April 4 during a cooking competition sponsored by Kansas City Teen Summit at KCPS’ Manual Career Technical Center. Above, Lashay Williams, senior at Central High School, explains her team’s torte de pear recipe to competition judge and Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s. Leslie Collins

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News
April 17 2013 

Beeps and buzzes, clinking and clanging. Students scurried to measure the next ingredient, to stir sauces to correct consistency.

Each team competed against the next to win first place in the April 4 culinary arts competition sponsored by the Kansas City Teen Summit at Kansas City Public Schools’ Manual Career Technical Center. Three well-known local chefs judged the competition and included Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s, Dan Swinney of Lidia’s and Shanita McAfee of Magnolia’s.

KCPS’ culinary arts students were judged on preparation, flavor, moisture content, seasoning, presentation and more. During the morning class, the judges gave the students three base ingredients for a meal, which included pasta, asparagus and chicken. Each team researched recipes to put their own twist on the ingredients. The afternoon class was tasked with creating a dessert that included pears and chocolate.

“I was impressed. I didn’t think they were that advanced, so I was overwhelmed,” Mirabile said. “Believe it or not, some of these kids’ cooking is right on par to be a line cook.”

Brenette Wilder, founder of Kansas City Teen Summit, said she wanted to host the competition to inspire the students to pursue their dreams. A number of students told Northeast News they’d like to pursue a career in culinary arts.

“Every dream has to grow,” Wilder said. “I hope the competition is just the beginning for many.”

As students prepared their dishes, the three judges walked around the kitchen, intently watching each team and asking them questions.

“I thought it was a good idea,” Northeast High School junior Osman Mberwa said of the competition. “That way we can know what it’s like outside of class. We can show off what we learned.”

Osman learned about the culinary arts program through his high school counselor and said prior to taking the course, he knew nothing about cooking.

“Now, I can actually cook for myself,” he said. “I like everything about class. It’s a hands-on thing. You can use your imagination and get creative with food.”

Osman said he’d like to return to the culinary arts program next year and wants to operate and own a restaurant.

“I was nervous when I first came in,” East High School junior Clifton McCutchen said of the competition.

Soon, his nervousness subsided as he began working with teammates Kenneth Hall and Lashay Williams.

“We all get along; we can share a laugh together,” McCutchen said of his teammates. “I never thought I would be in this class and I love it. It can take us places we’ve never been before.”

Asked why she volunteered to judge, McAfee said, “They’re the future of our industry. If people aren’t interested in culinary arts, it can only last so long.”

“To me, finding people (to work) is the biggest challenge,” Swinney said. “I always make myself available when I can to talk to young people and let them know what the business is all about.”

McAfee said it’s vital to encourage students to continue pursuing an education in culinary arts because without schooling, it’s difficult to secure an interview or advance in the industry.

“I hope that it (competition) does reinforce all the things I’ve been teaching them all year long,” said KCPS Culinary Arts Instructor and Chef Dennis Charest.

To date, students have learned about safety and sanitation, stock soups, sauces, cakes, pies, breads, among others.

“Mainly, I’ve taught them how to work,” Charest said. “If you can’t hang with me, you’re not going to make it, baby. I tell them, ‘Do you want to live under a bridge or have a future?'”

A number of Charest’s students have moved on to successful culinary arts careers. One former student works as a sous chef at McCormick & Schmick’s on the Country Club Plaza. Another former student was recently promoted to sous chef at a Kansas City restaurant, another is a corporate chef for a hotel chain and another works as an executive pastry chef in Miami, Fla.

“Working in the food service industry is very hard and not everybody can do it, but it has great rewards,” Charest said.

As for the April 4 culinary arts competition, Charest said, “They did great. I was probably more stressed than they were.”

“It’s really great to come back and see these students working,” Mirabile said. “There’s no loser today. They should be proud walking out of this room for what they accomplished. They all deserve recognition.”

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Decorative touches. Twenty-two KCPS students compete for first place during the April 4 culinary arts competition at Manual Career Technical Center. Competition winners received a medallion, a letter of acknowledgement signed by the judges, dinner at one of the chef’s restaurants and time in the restaurant’s kitchen. Above, one team adds decorative touches to their dessert plate. Below, judges and chefs Dan Swinney of Lidia’s (center) and Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s (right) listen to students talk about their dish and then offer critiques. Pictured far left is competition organizer and founder of Kansas City Teen Summit Brenette Wilder. Wilder said she wanted to host the event to inspire students to pursue their dreams. Leslie Collins

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