Hands were busy chopping, stirring, peeling, grilling and plating in the kitchens at Mission College’s Hospitality Department during the school’s first annual culinary competition on March 24. The competing students came from four high schools in the Fremont Union High School District. Working in teams representing their schools, students were required to create a main entree napoleon of polenta, roasted vegetables and shrimp with smoked tomato coulis. One of the finished plates featured a triple decker sandwich made from round creamy polenta with garlic and herbed shrimp sandwiched inside. A crisscross of crispy grilled asparagus and streaks of tart balsamic vinegar sauce graced the rest of the rectangular plate.
“The purpose of the culinary competition is to strengthen our relationships with the high schools and enhance our program’s exposure to potential students,” says Haze Dennis, chair of the Hospitality Management department. “I picked the [polenta and shrimp dish] for students to make because it has a lot of elements. They have to cook a cereal, roast vegetables and do a reduction. We built in room for creativity.”
Cooking through the morning, the student chefs dashed around the kitchen to gather and pass on ingredients. They stirred the polenta batter over the stove, sliced vegetables and piped out meringue flowers onto parchment paper. The aromas of garlic, herbs, reduction sauce and grilling vegetables wafted through the air.
“Every school has to make the same difficult restaurant style recipe,” says Celia Krippene, culinary instructor at Fremont High School and former Santa Clara resident. “Each school makes a different dessert of their choice but it must have meringue, fruit and whipped cream.”
“In the classroom, the skills set the students learn are great. But being here the students can utilize the skills they learn in a real world environment,” says Maria Ricardo, teacher assistant at Fremont High School and Santa Clara resident.
The expert judges, with extensive culinary backgrounds, included Daniel Arias and Rick Bennett, both employed at Mission College, Jose Guerrero from Santa Clara’s Bay Club, Kevin O’Connor from Google’s Bon Appetit and Lee Bennett from Santa Clara’s Bourbon Steak and Pub. After tasting each team’s food, the judges named the Lynbrook High School team the winner. According to Susan Schenck, Mission College’s career technical education coordinator, the judges offered feedback to the student chefs during the competition. At the same time, students from the Hospitality Department also mentored the high school students.