Battle Mountain’s dining dynasty displayed in competition
Five cooks, three courses, two camp stoves, one hour. BMHS rolls again in state ProStart competition
EDWARDS — Just think of Battle Mountain’s culinary program as a dining dynasty.
After a four-year hiatus, they returned to the ProStart state championships and finished second. A “small technical error” kept them from bringing home their 9th state title, according to one of the judges.
Dancing with deadly weapons
A ProStart competition is a little like dancing with deadly weapons.
Five cooks prepare a three-course meal from scratch on two camp stoves in one hour. Turns out there are not too many cooks in the kitchen, which is a 10-by-10 square with two large tables that hold the flames and knives.
“They were laughing and talking the entire time,” said Rosa Provoste, their mentor chef who cooks professionally with the Sonnenalp’s Harvest restaurant. Everyone was talking except for Provoste. Coaches are not allowed to speak with their teams. If they do, they’re disqualified.
The five-member team — Khang Huynh, Milton Garzon Gallardo, Jake Sturde, Audrey Teague, Maddie Zastrow — started last year trying everything they could imagine. Provoste and coach Sharon Wible encouraged them to try everything, and the more unique the better.
“We could do anything we wanted, as long as we could do it in an hour,” Zastrow said.
They eliminated soup and ravioli. Their elk loin was amazing but didn’t make the cut either. Nor did the lamb chops or the butternut squash. Research never tasted so good.
Eventually, they settled on their competition menu and began practicing – three times a week for months.
The first few tries were both an adventure and misadventure. It took an hour and 45 minutes (they have an hour in competition) the first time they tried it. They melted a burner on one of their camp stoves. And because their camp stoves burn hotter than most heat sources, they burned the custard they use in their dessert a few times. Then they suffered the other extreme when the blowtorch torch they use to finish their dessert — Crema Catalana with macerated berries — flamed out during a practice session shortly before the competition, which led to all sorts of entertaining alliteration torches and ticking timers.
Finally, though, after dozens of practices, they had it down to a dance — if your idea of dancing includes fire, torches and knives.
Battle Mountain has a long and storied ProStart history, eight state titles in 11 years and twice runnerup. That makes Wible the John Wooden of kitchen coaches.
One year other teams whined that the judges were biased toward Battle Mountain. So no one wore any identifying insignias. Battle Mountain won that year anyway.
But no one from this team had competed in a state competition. They weren’t sure what to expect.
“We just wanted to have fun,” Audrey Teague said.
“And do our best and maybe finish in the top 10,” Garzon Gallardo said.
They did both, and then some.
Art and science
Culinary competitions are both art and science. Along with a healthy and colorful menu, the students also learned about things like molecular gastronomy. That’s a subdiscipline of food science that deals with how ingredients transform physically and chemically during cooking.
Battle Mountain transformed it into something wonderful, is what they did.
The judges don’t just stand around and gawk. They pepper the students with questions while they’re working.
“They not only want to know what you’re making, but what is happening,” Teague said.
Khang Huynh learned to create hand-made pasta on the spot. The native of Vietnam didn’t speak any English two years ago when he started at Battle Mountain, so he had all sorts of things to learn.
Because they finished so well they’re eligible for all kinds of scholarships, if they want to attend culinary schools. If they don’t, they have a set of lifetime skills, Sturde said.
For example, Khang is now so good at making pasta that his teammates turn up their noses at store-bought pasta. So did the judges. When the competition was over the judges were spotted eating the leftovers from Battle Mountain’s entrees.
“We’re a little bit spoiled. I ordered a creme brulee at the restaurant. It was good but not as good as ours,” Teague said.