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VISD culinary students battle in cook-off with mystery ingredients

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Nov. 20, 2010 at 5:20 a.m.
Updated Nov. 21, 2010 at 5:21 a.m.

FROM LEFT: Victoria West High School students, from left, Chris Smith, 16, Bianca Hosler, 18, and Beatrice Ramirez, 16, discuss what to do about  a problem they were having with their sweet potatoes during VISD's culinary arts classes'  Iron Chef competition Tuesday at the Career and Technology Institute.

Winning teamThe winning team for the 'A' day afternoon class: Ashel Geistman, Maria Armas Diaz, Erika Sanchez, Cody Richter

Dishes: Three-cheese baked macaroni with bacon bits and homemade mashed potatoes with ground beef and gravy.

The top group of all four culinary classes accompanied Chef Jason Gray to a cookie-decorating booth at Dudley Elementary Thursday.

Chef Jason Gray pulled a giant white cloth away from a food cart and revealed the secret ingredient for his first Iron Chef student competition in Victoria.

Bowls of noodles, rice and potatoes were the ingredients the teenage teams had to use to create their own winning meals from scratch. They had one hour.

The competition was part of the Career and Technology Institute's new culinary arts class, which focuses on cooking techniques and kitchen teamwork. The competition was based on the popular "Iron Chef" TV show where chefs are given one secret ingredient to include in a meal. Gray chose starches.

The students ambled around their workspaces, some dropped equipment while chopping, measuring, frying and boiling their way through the competition.

Gray, a former Navy chef, barked orders and advice.

"You have to work as a team," Gray shouted. "The kitchen doesn't function if there's not teamwork."

One group began creating a beef stroganoff and the other fried chicken, while volunteer judges eyed their teamwork, communication, creativity and food safety.

"I think it's great practice for the kids to get used to such competition," said Dana Bigham, a judge and director of the district's child nutrition program. "Because even when they get a real job, there will be competition within your workplace."

Chris Smith, a West High School junior, moved quickly, plating the stroganoff after his team undercooked a bowlful of yams.

"It was hard," he said, explaining the competition. "I didn't really expect starches that much, but I think I did well. I just hope it wasn't too bad. Those yams . they were hard as rocks."

Though he doesn't plan to chase a culinary career, Chris said the class is important because it teaches good life skills.

"It's something good to know so I can cook for myself, and I don't have to eat out so much," he said.

Dolores Baker, a junior, was disappointed with her group, but believed the life lessons learned through cooking are worthwhile.

"When you get a job, you're going to have to work with people you don't like. You're going to have miscommunications," she said. "Maybe in time it'll work. But today, it didn't work."

Gray, a longtime chef who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Fla., plans to take his students to a Skills USA competition in the spring. Eventually, he hopes his students will get to see more of the creative aspects of the craft.

"Culinary is an art. Food is an art," he said. "It's taking your own mind and being creative, taking that food and turning it into an art on that plate."

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