Hats off to the 21 student chefs from seven Silicon Valley area high schools who competed at Mission College, Santa Clara, in its 4th What’s Cookin’? Culinary Competition on March 28. The competition was organized by the Hospitality Management Program.
Santa Clara’s Wilcox High School Culinary, Hospitality, and Management Preparation (CHAMP) culinary team — Caitlin, Gurkirat and Janki — won the delicious honor of first place for the second year in a row.
Second place went to Woodside High School and third place to Fremont High School in Sunnyvale. Other participating schools were Cupertino, Homestead, Live Oak and Lynbrook.
The young chefs had exactly 75 minutes to prepare lunch for two in a teaching kitchen in the Freeberg Hospitality Management building on campus. It was one menu with seven interpretations.
Just what was cookin’? Chicken thighs with olives, lemon and thyme; polenta seasoned with thyme and goat cheese; and green beans with garlic, lemon and parsley.
Mission College Hospitality Management Department Chair Daniel Arias had practicality in mind in selecting the menu. He chose recipes that were economically feasible to practice ahead of time.
The recipes allowed the students to display basic knife cuts and other culinary skills. Plus, the recipes were doable within the short time limit.
The pressure of competition surprised some students.
“It was more competitive than we thought it would be,” one student was overheard saying once the food was plated and presented to the judges.
The Fremont High School team felt the pressure and the pleasure of a job well done.
“Our dish is pretty good, but I’m relieved it’s over,” said Esteban. “I feel good now.”
“I like the creative environment, but I feel nervous about the judging,” said Manor.
“It’s good experience competing with other people,” said Lauren, the third teammate. “I enjoy cooking and being able to know basic skills will be good in the future.”
Mariott San Jose Executive Chef Paul Rohadfox was one of six judges from the culinary industry volunteering their time.
“It’s nice to see the start of the next generation of chefs,” said Rohadfox. “It’s good to see that culinary is being recognized in schools now as a career focus. It’s a tough industry.”
Mission College Hospitality Program
The Mission College Hospitality Management Program is the only immediate South Bay option for high school students who wish to earn accredited training leading toward — and beyond — entry level employment in the hospitality industry.
The annual culinary competition builds bridges between the secondary schools and Mission College. While the chefs were competing, more than 100 other invited students toured the college campus.
They were treated to a soup and sandwich buffet lunch prepared by hospitality students. The day was capped off by awards to the winning culinary teams and a career panel discussion with a Q&A.
“[Today] could point to a dynamic career path for high school students who are only just beginning to consider a career in hospitality management,” said Mission College Career Technical Education counselor Monica Nolasco.
“This competition could be a way to engage the students who otherwise might not be exposed to what Mission College has to offer,” continued Nolasco. “It could also serve as a mechanism to motivate students to pursue postsecondary education.”
The competition judges were evaluating more than culinary skills.
“I liked the way you worked together,” said judge Jeffery Stout, chef-owner of Orchard City Kitchen in Campbell. “I would hire you.”