High school chefs are national champs; | VailDaily.com

High school chefs are national champs;

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Shane Macomber/Daily file photoBattle Mountain High School's culinary team practiced for hours and hours in the kitchen before beating out 33 other teams to win the national championship last weekend.

EAGLE COUNTY ” What does a victory lap for a champion team of chefs look like?

It looks delicious ” like an eight course tasting menu at La Tour.

“Food will definitely be a part of it,” senior Cam Lewis said.

Battle Mountain High School’s Pro Start cooking team beat out 33 teams for first place at the national competition this past weekend in Charlotte, N.C. ” a first for the school. The team includes Lewis, Colby LeFebvre, Ryan Walker and Ian King, all seniors.

The chefs prepared a restaurant quality menu of marinated mushroom and pancetta salad, pan seared Colorado striped bass with shrimp sauce and tortellinis and a granny smith apple pancake with walnut streusel and caramel sauce.

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While taste and presentation are important, the chefs were also graded sternly on sanitation, safety, technique, knife skills and team work.

They also proved they can think like restaurateurs. Judges analyzed their menu, their cost estimations, their ingredient list” basically the things any chef would need to understand to run a restaurant.

Then there’s the thing that’s not graded but is absolutely necessary ” the insane drive to stand over a hot stove the rest of your life that all good chefs have.

“There has to be so much passion for food and business,” LeFebvre said. “You have to be excited when you see that someone enjoys what you made. “

They’d been practicing five hours a day, five days a week and received extensive coaching and sponsorship from mentor chefs ” private chef Tom Walker, who is Ryan Walker’s father; Todd Rymer with Colorado Mountain College’s culinary school; and Paul Ferzacca of La Tour.

“Professional chefs have to practice a lot to do what these guys do,” Ferzacca said.

The concept of “mise en place,” or organization and preparation, was a difficult and important lesson Ferzacca helped them master. He also taught them about the importance of choosing quality ingredients.

“When you go to the store to pick out fruits and vegetables, sometimes they don’t think about what they’re grabbing, you have to teach them to grab the best there is,” Ferzacca said.

The team was offered a smorgasbord of scholarships from 12 different schools after winning the competition. They all plan on attending Johnson and Wales culinary school in Denver, but may consider New England Culinary Institute, where they were offered full tuition.

While the chefs excel at cooking the food, Eagle Valley High School junior Keegan Hammond has become a pro at hunting it down.

Her parents were hunters, and she grew up shooting .22 rifles and learning firearms safety. She became heavily involved in the 4-H shooting sports program, and was recently named a 4-H shooting sports ambassador for Colorado.

It’s a pretty big honor in the 4-H world, she said.

Her duties include traveling around the state and introducing kids to the 4-H program.

“It’s more than just cows ” there’s so much to it,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of young kids grow. Their self confidence goes way up.”

Sure, livestock is a part of it, but there’s cooking, sewing, public speaking, community service, and her specialty, shooting sports.

“My favorite is shotgun ” I like to shoot trap,” Hammond said.

Hammond will soon be competing for a spot as a national ambassador for 4-H. She was one of two ambassadors chosen in Colorado to compete.

“I’m really proud to be a part of this,” she said.

An existential diatribe from a play about hell is sending Battle Mountain Junior Sean Pack to the national speech finals.

He’s performing excerpts from Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” which features a fellow named Garcin stuck in room, believed to be hell, with two women. They expect to be tortured in hell, but all they have is each other’s company, and Garcin has a bit of a breakdown.

“It has that great line at the end: ‘Hell is other people,'” Pack said.

Pack became the first national speech competition qualifier ever from the school district, teacher Suzanne Foster said.

The competition will be in June in Wichita, Kansas. Pack competes in a category called drama interpretation.

Pack has been in plays for seven years and is one of the leads in “Footloose,” which is playing this weekend at Battle Mountain High School.

“The competitions are absolutely insane ” I’m excited,” Pack said.

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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