Will and I have been visiting the Seaside High School advanced culinary classroom every week day since late November. A team of 4 plus an alternate was picked from a group of about 20 kids to be our Prostart team this year. The prostart program is the brainchild of the National Restaurant Association, and locally the Oregon Restaurant Association. A way to show high school students that cooking, or restaurant and hotel management can be a great career. A career that while I absolutely love, I am very hesitant to recommend to people. The money is always tight, the hours are long, and the work is hard. The attrition rate at culinary schools the world over is appalling as people (especially younger ones) find out the work is nothing like it looks on TV, and not as creative as they would like. While our company was very involved in the initial costs to get the program together at the local high school (the kitchen got a total overhaul, and is now a very capable professional kitchen) we weren't involved much beyond that for the first few years. Three years ago we were asked to mentor those kids through the span of the program. It ended up being a much bigger time and financial commitment then we had originally expected. Now in our third year of this mentoring we have a much better grasp on the rules and capabilities of the students.
The culminating event is a competition where our team is expected to show some technical skills by breaking down some chickens, and then showing some basic knife cuts. Then the four students cook a three course meal, two identical plates for each course, on nothing but two butane burners and two 8 ft tables all of that within the one hour time limit. Due to the lack of any sort of extreme heat on the burners, and no oven, grills, or even electric appliances we are forced to get a bit creative with the products we can cook. Especially desserts. The team practices the meal over and over again, and on D-day packs all of their own products that are inspected for temperature and labeling upon arrival. Recipes and the food costing, as well as plating diagrams are all required a month before the event. Even during the cooking judges come by the table and ask questions like- what temperature is your oil to do that?, What are you going to do with those scraps? Is that beef grain, corn, or grass fed? etc. Scores are tallied for organization, paperwork communication, sanitation, knife skills, poultry breakdown, and the actual cooking technique involved, as well as plating and taste of the dishes. Scores are tallied by a group of highly talented chefs from the area and then awards are presented at a banquet that evening. The winning team will go to DC to cook in the nationwide championship against the winning team from each of the involved states.
The idea of having to balance your relatively un-experienced team, the burner situation, and also the struggle to show as much basic technique as possible makes coming up with the menu pretty tough. At the same time the expectation from the judges is very high. These plates need to be fine dining restaurant quality or better. They need to be trendy yet technical. To keep the playing field more even you are also very limited on the actual plates provided to present food on. There are only 3 options for plates and one bowl. EVERYTHING you put on those plates has to be made in during the competition, nothing comes in prepped, reduced, or set up already.
Our team took a very respectful fourth place on Saturday, and the students and Will were very excited about that. Since the competition involves about 50 teams, there is no break for bigger or smaller schools, so we compete with schools that are much bigger and better financed then us. So fourth place is a very good showing. Hopefully these kids will remember the dishes and techniques that we have pounded into them for months now, and can execute them for the rest of their lives. We can even score a couple of great employees from the students to help us through the summer months. If I can find pictures of the finished dishes I will get them posted as soon as I can. The food looked amazing.
Appetizer-Pan Fried Oysters- Shucked oyster, then pan fried and placed back in the shell on a bed of a jalapeno and lime jelly, topped with a "pearl" of goat cheese. All of it rests on a bed of rock salt.
Entree-Beef Tournedos- Seared slices of beef tenderloin on a bed of local fingerling potato hash with corn, wilted spinach, all finished with crimini and oyster mushrooms in a veal glace sauce.
Dessert-Apple Beignets (bin-yeah)- topped with our now famous plastic bag/10 minute vanilla ice cream and powdered sugar