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The City Journals

Brighton High culinary students place in top 15 at state

Apr 22, 2019 01:36PM ● By Julie Slama

After the ProStart regional competition, Brighton High culinary students are all smiles as they pose by their entry based on the “A Taste of New York” theme. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It may seem like being on “The Great British Baking Show” or “Chopped” reality TV shows, but for high school culinary arts students, like Brighton’s ProStart team, it’s a chance to showcase what they’ve learned and put it to the test.

And the team of seniors Brady Ricks, Allison Tatton and Cameron Jones and juniors Selena Matulich and Kendra Welch did that, not only qualifying at the Feb. 21 central regional competition for the March 12 state competition, but placing 13th at state. 

Their teacher, Hilary Cavanaugh, could only smile, clap and silently cheer from outside of the ring in the spectator viewing area.

“They’re judged on taste, presentation, technique, time management, knife safety, sanitation, food cost and more,” she said. “Then, they’re immediately given feedback from the judges.”

However, preparation for the competition takes months. 

Brighton’s team began in October, working after school almost four hours a week until January on their menu before finalizing it to “A Taste of New York” as its theme. 

At the competition, student chefs prepared two of each dish — one for the judges and one to display — of their appetizer, deconstructed apple feta pizza; their entrée, New York strip served with an apple wine sauce; and their dessert, New York coffee cheesecake.

“Everything had apple included in it, for the Big Apple,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re also getting really skilled at hand mixing instead of using a mixer or with their knife skills using a knife instead of a slicing mandoline.”

That’s because competition rules don’t allow teams to use electricity. Competing at the central region against about 12 other teams, the rules also state teams can only use two burners to prepare a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Teams also are judged from menu planning to creating a business plan.

So while four members of Brighton’s team worked together to dice and mince, the fifth acts as manager and timekeeper, ensuring the team is on track to meet the 60-minute time limit. 

“They’re learning to work as a team and to work under pressure,” Cavanaugh said. “Some of this we covered in class, but some they learned more on their own. It’s a great opportunity for them to apply what they’ve learned.”

ProStart is a national two-year program for high school students that develops talent for the restaurant and food-service industry. Students learn culinary techniques, management skills, communication, customer service skills, math, nutrition, and workplace and food safety procedures. They also learn effective leadership and responsibility.

Melva Sine, the president and CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, which oversees Utah’s ProStart program, said the 20-year program gives students real-life skills.

“These competitors are able to think on their feet, know how to season or flavor, make a plate look as good as it tastes, work as a team to make a decision, and at the same time, know the proper knife safety, grilling, food handling, sanitation procedures,” she said. “It definitely will help them when they work and own their own restaurants.”

In Utah, there are about 70 ProStart programs and about five teams advance to state from each region. At state, Sandy’s Alta High won the state culinary arts championship in its first season and will represent Utah at nationals May 8–10 in Washington, D.C.

This year, ProStart teams will be honored at a May 23 gala honoring the best in the state.