EDWARDS, Colorado — ProStart teams are like four-hands piano, only with eight hands, flames and razor-sharp knives.
Battle Mountain's ProStart team won its eighth state championship and is headed back to the nationals for the eighth time in 10 years. The team will spend next month's spring break in Baltimore, competing against 40 other state championship teams for a national title.
Sharon Wible is Battle Mountain's ProStart instructor, and has been for 10 years.
“These competitions are a big deal. Students compete for scholarship money and bragging rights for best in the state and the country,” Wible said.
The team is Alex Ruben, Lucan Kern, Melissa Bosworth, Rocio Martinez and Slaten Forbes. Even their tryouts are cool. They have an omelet competition. Do something wonderful with eggs and you're on the team.
In competition, two of them each work on two 8-foot tables, with two butane burners to create two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts. Nothing battery operated or electric. No mixers, no slicers. No ovens. No refrigeration. If they have to cool something they do it with ice.
They have one hour to create a three-course meal from scratch and have it on the plate.
Everything is judged — teamwork, how clean they keep everything as they cook. They do a cost analysis of everything. They know what it costs and what the markup should be. Ingredients are procedures are part of the package.
For the knife competition they demonstrate four of six knife cuts, and use them to cut a chicken into eight pieces.
And of course the meal they prepare and its presentation get most of the attention.
You play to your audience. The team originally wanted to compete with Latin food, but it doesn't score well, Wible said. French is popular with judges, Italian too. They're building their meal around a rack of lamb.
The national competition is April 19-21, in Baltimore. They fly out the 17th so they can practice at sea level.
They carry their own cooking gear — pans, knives — so airports are an adventure.
Bosworth is a junior. She's looking at a culinary career, possibly as a pastry chef, so she tried out for the team and made it.
When we caught up with them, Melissa was preparing the chocolate cake on the stovetop.
They'll cook this meal twice a week until the next month's nationals, and they have it down to a dance routine. Still, they're not afraid to shift on the fly.
“We changed the chocolate cake the week of the state competition to make it look better,” Melissa said.
It must have worked; they won.
Ruben was on last year's team and is this year's captain.
“I love cooking and this is a fantastic way to do it,” Ruben said.
Ruben is fond of cooking for his family, and when the nationals are over next month he'll probably cook this meal some more.
“My family likes lamb, so that's what they get,” Ruben said.
The Battle Mountain team is in good hands.
Heather Weems runs Colorado Mountain College's culinary arts program. She's been around Battle Mountain's program six years and became the mentor last year.
Wible is this year's Colorado ProStart teacher of the year. The Colorado Restaurant Association is flying her to Chicago to accept the award.