Young chefs serve up creativity

Area high school students compete in Culinary Skills Challenge

Photo by Deb Gau Knife skills were one of the areas where students competed at the Schwan’s Culinary Skills Challenge on Thursday. Worthington student Mussa Zerfu and Webster student Taryn Zakrzewski work to cut vegetables into consistent-sized pieces.

MARSHALL — There was a flurry of activity at the workstations set up in Southwest Minnesota State University’s Recreation/Athletic facility.

Groups of area high school students hustled to chop vegetables, create the perfect sauces, and plate delicious-looking meals within a time limit.

“You’ve got to really stay active all the time,” said Colton Appel, a member of the four-student culinary team from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton.

A kitchen timer went off as the RTR students were putting the finishing touches on their braised Caprese chicken dish. Team members quickly gathered around to pick which of their two plates to present to the judges.

The culinary competition was just one of the competitive events at the Schwan’s Culinary Skills Challenge on Thursday. More than 200 high school students from across southwest Minnesota showcased skills ranging from cooking and baking, to creating table settings. Students also got a chance to learn more about the culinary industry through breakout events held on the SMSU campus.

There were plenty of challenges facing students in the culinary competition. One was that they were working with portable equipment instead of a full kitchen.

“We had to try to keep everything warm with only two burners,” said Kai Drake, a member of the RTR culinary team.

For their entry, students from Marshall High School added touches like homemade fresh pasta to go with a chicken marsala dish. But the big challenge was finding a good marsala sauce recipe that didn’t use wine.

“And the sauce we made today, we never practiced making this exact sauce,” said team member Braelyn Wing. “But it turned out the best we’ve had it so far.”

“It was pretty fun, and stressful,” team member Aliyah Parrie said of being in the culinary competition.

“It’s a little bit of both,” Wing agreed.

MHS students said the breakout classes, and getting to see other students’ work, were all part of what made the Culinary Skills Challenge fun.

“It’s fun seeing everyone’s creativity,” said Ramara Reinert.

Reinert said she entered the multi-layered cake decorating event as a way to challenge herself.

“I want to open my own bakery someday,” she said.

The Culinary Skills Challenge brought together students with different types of kitchen skills and levels of experience.

“This is my first time here,” said Gabi Elias, a Lac qui Parle Valley student. Elias had just turned in a set of spring-themed cupcakes in one of the event’s cake-decorating competitions. While Elias liked baking, she said she wasn’t sure at first how much she would like decorating. But the competition turned out to be fun.

“I do like being creative,” she said.

RTR student Joe Dagel said he got interested in the Culinary Skills Challenge through being in FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). On Thursday, he was competing in the baking science event for the first time.

“You get a recipe, and they tell you to adapt it to make it healthier,” Dagel said.

For his entry, he put a new spin on chocolate chip cookies.

“I ended up making a strawberry chocolate chip oatmeal breakfast cookie,” he said. Instead of some more traditional cookie ingredients, the recipe used alternatives like yogurt and aquafaba — an egg substitute made from chickpea water.

The substitutions worked out well, Dagel said.

“I was surprised,” Dagel said.

Going to the Culinary Skills Challenge was a good experience, especially for students interested in the culinary industry, Dagel said.

“It gives you an idea of what the entire industry is like,” he said.


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