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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Abilene High School Students Cook Up Talent!!

Cool, Calm and Collected AHS Students Showcase Culinary Talents

Meta Newell West

            Abilene High School students are busy wielding knives and skillets as they prepare for the Kansas ProStart Invitational® competition being held in Wichita March 3-4. Despite the fact that they’ll face opponents from 21 other schools across the state, the four culinary team members appeared to be cool, calm and collected during a recent practice session in the FACS department at the high school.  
            As student chefs Teia Potter, Addie Alvarez and Issaih Lopez focused on the preparation of their signature recipes, Stephanie Mikulecky served as their sous chef, helping out, assisting as needed, and adding words of encouragement. Although students compete individually, their recipes and menus all reflect an Asian-inspired team theme.
            Plans for this event began in January with the start of a new semester. That’s when students began selecting and testing recipes, putting together restaurant quality menus that include their selected recipes, calculating ingredient costs and then projecting the final cost of their restaurant style menus.
            Their culinary training actually started with a series of prerequisite classes, a “career pathway” designed to prepare them for working in the foodservice industry. Competing in the Kansas ProStart Invitational®, a competition that is focused on restaurant management and culinary arts skills, is a chance for students to showcase what they’ve learned over several semesters of class work.
            Teia, the only sophomore in the group and the “new kid on the block” when it comes to culinary competitions, has received lots of advice and encouragement from the juniors in the group. She even pointed out that Addie was instrumental is helping her put together the recipe for potstickers that she’s making for the competition.
             As students shop for and transport needed ingredients, they are expected to follow restaurant quality standards for purchasing and handling food. Issaih pointed out that upon arrival in Wichita all cold ingredients, such as meats and dairy products, must be submitted for testing to determine if proper temperatures have been maintained during travel. This is the first of many checks to make sure that safety and sanitation standards meet those set by state health codes and of the foodservice industry.
            Once the competition begins students have just 20 minutes to set up and prep, and then 60 minutes to do the actual cooking (there are no ovens or stoves; all cooking is done on butane burners), and plating. When the time is up, they meet with teams of judges who will critique their time management, cooking skills, attention to safety and sanitation standards, and their ability to attractively plate and garnish the final dish. Each participant must also submit a portfolio they’ve prepared in advance; this consists of their menus with prices and a photo of their selected recipe.
            Despite many hours of preparation and practice, the students willingly agreed to share their prized recipes. They’ve also shared some details about the origin of their recipes, a few preparation tips, and their thoughts about competitive cooking.

Teia Potter’s POTSTICKERS     Makes 2 portions
Pan frying is the technique employed in this dish. It’s a shallow frying method where the food is only partially covered in oil. Teia drops her potstickers in oil that is hot enough to ensure that the moisture in them can escape in the form of steam. The force of that steam also keeps the oil from soaking into the potstickers. Concerning the origin of her recipe, she explained, “It’s a mix between what I found online and my mom’s family recipe for egg rolls.”

Potsticker Filling
   ¼ lb. ground pork
   ⅛ cup (2 tablespoons) chopped scallions (green onions)
   1 ⅛ teaspoon grated ginger root
   3 tablespoons vegetable oil
   2 tablespoons finely chopped cabbage
   1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 wonton skins  
   1 tablespoon granulated sugar
   1 tablespoon rice vinegar
   1 tablespoon water
   ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
Additional vegetable oil for pan frying 

Potsticker Filling: Brown the pork in a skillet. Combine cooked pot with remaining ingredients.
To Assemble Pot Stickers: Brush edges of the skin lightly with water; place about a rounded ½ teaspoon of the pork mixture in the center of the wrapper. Fold, shape and seal edges.
Pan Frying: Heat just enough additional vegetable oil to partially cover pot stickers as they fry.
Sauce: Mix together sauce ingredients and serve as an accompaniment to pot stickers.
Teia works on plating her potstickers. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Teia’s offering includes three potstickers with dipping sauce. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Teia’s comments about the competition: “I’m nervous about competing since it’s my first time, but I look forward to having fun with my teammates.”

Issaih Lopez’s KUNG PAO BEEF     Makes 4 servings
After consulting with Mrs. Farr, his culinary instructor, Issaih decided to use a cookie cutter to mold the rice that accompanies his Asian entrée. He also noted, “I combined two recipes but the first time I made this dish, we determined it was too salty.” He tried two more adjustments, and after his third try, he said, “I got it just right this time!”

1 ½ lbs. boneless beef sirloin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry
1 egg white, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut or corn oil
4 dried red chiles, split
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon grated ginger root
1 teaspoon Szechwan pepper, toasted and crushed 
2 scallions (green onions), cut in ½” pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut in pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine or sherry
2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
⅓ cup roasted peanuts

Trim fat from the steak and cut into 1” cubes. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine/sherry, egg white and salt in a glass bowl. Add the beef and stir to coat. Marinate for 1 hour, covered in the refrigerator.
Place peanut/corn oil in a wok, swirling to coat the sides, and place over high heat. Add the chilies and cook until they begin to darken. Add the garlic, ginger and Szechwan pepper; continue to cook to infuse the oil. Add the scallions and bell pepper. Remove the steak from the marinade and add it to the wok. Stir-fry the beef for 3 minutes until brown. Blend in soy sauce, rice wine, Chinese vinegar, sugar and chicken broth. Dissolve the cornstarch slurry and add it to the sauce, stirring, to thicken. Sprinkle in the peanuts and stir to coat. Serve over rice.
Issaih Lopez stirs the ingredients for his Kung Pao Beef as Stephanie Mikulecky assists in the background. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Rice accompanies Issaih’s entrée dish that is garnished with a carrot flower. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Issaih’s comments about the competition: “I feel like we have a stronger chance on placing higher this year as well as making our town of Abilene proud for something we’ve accomplished.

Addie found the strawberry filling recipe online but had to tweak it to adjust the sweetness. She adds that filling and chocolate sauce to squeeze bottles for ease in dispensing, and to create the eye-catching chocolate designs on her dessert plate. She put her own spin on this dish by creating flower-shaped wonton cups that hold the sauce.

Strawberry Filling (this makes enough for several serving)
   1 cup fresh strawberries
   ½ cup granulated sugar
   2 teaspoons cornstarch
Mix ingredients together on a stovetop in a pan, mashing the strawberries. Cook over medium heat until the mixture becomes a thick paste.

Wonton Cups (ingredients & instructions for 1 serving of 3 wonton cups)
   3 wonton skins
   1 tablespoon vegetable oil
   1 tablespoon granulated sugar
   1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Using a cookie cutter, cut each wonton skin into a flower design. Lightly fry the skins in a pan with a small amount of hot oil. Remove and place them in the bottom of a small bowl (the bowl of a measuring cup works, too), allowing the skins to form into a cup shape. Mix sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle this mixture over the cup shapes.

   Chocolate plating sauce
   Whipped cream (made by whisking ½ cup heavy whipping cream with 1 tablespoon
   granulated sugar)
   Whole strawberries, partially cut lengthwise and fanned, then dusted with granulated
   sugar (1 per dessert plate)
To Assemble: Decorate dessert plate with chocolate sauce. Arrange 3 wonton flower cups on plate and fill with strawberry mixture; top each with a dollop of whipped cream. Add a fanned and sugared strawberry to each plate.
Addie sprinkles cinnamon sugar over a lightly fried, flower-shaped wonton dessert cup. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Pleasing to look at, delicious to eat—Addie’s Strawberry-filled Wonton Cups. - photo by Sarah Geiger
Addie’s comments about the competition: “I am a little nervous, but not as much as last time. I'm really excited to cook with my teammates and have this experience. I just want to go compete and have fun doing it.”

            To win in Wichita, students must impress judges from leading industry corporations and colleges with the skills they've developed in culinary and hospitality based classes. However, no matter the final outcomes at the Kansas ProStart Invitational®, I’m impressed with the skills, knowledge, dedication and winning attitude that Teia, Addie, Issiah, and Stephanie displayed during their practice session. In my book they have what it takes to compete in this premier high school competition. Their instructor, Mrs. Deb Farr, should also be commended for spurring her students to take this challenge, as should the USD 435 administration and Board of Education for supporting such a worthwhile project. 

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