Local chefs are champs
DENVER – It was hot. In a packed auditorium, under bright lights, bound in chefs hats and jackets, and surrounded by hundreds of fellow budding chefs and discriminating judges, the four Battle Mountain High School students sweated it out as they cooked. And the food sweated with them. The fruit wasn’t thick enough, the polenta cake started to flatten under the weight of the chicken – the ProStart Culinary Student Invitational was fraught with little dilemmas, but Battle Mountain’s young chefs defeated them all and went on to take first place in the state competition. Trouble all the wayMelissa Hines, Cam Lewis, Andy McNeill and Colby Lefebvre had checked in, endured an orientation that explained the rules they already knew and were rearing to go when the first snag hit. Lefebvre wouldn’t be able to use his propane torch – imperative in creating the roasted red pepper that would be used in two of the dishes.
But no, no, said the judges, only butane torches. So the team traded in the propane torch for a butane one. Crisis averted. But they weren’t out of the woods yet. “My dessert was a disaster,” Hines said. “The granola wasn’t setting right, the mango wasn’t ripe and the kiwi was the wrong color. I was nervous and flustered.”And besides the food, there were unfriendly judges and a crowd of hundreds before to deal with. Hines and Lewis both said they couldn’t look up at all – too scary.”I looked up once,” Lefebvre said. “But there were way too many people. I didn’t do that again.”McNeill, who was in competition for the second time along with Hines, said he was more comfortable than last year.”I was more focused,” he said.
“It was like muscle memory,” Lefebvre chimed in. The crowd buzzed in conversation but couldn’t so much as wave at the competitors. “You couldn’t even say, ‘Go Battle Mountain,’ in case it was code or something,” McNeill said. As the students sweated on stage, their parents, mentors and teachers slowly went insane watching them. “People don’t realize how intense this competition is,” said Sharon Wible, the Battle Mountain teacher who coaches the students. Lefebvre’s father, Bolder Lefebvre, said he had to walk away from the competition once.”I couldn’t watch it. I was too nervous,” he said. Judgment time
And just as suddenly as it had started, the hour of cooking was over, and the team had nothing to do but wait until judging was completed. Although Hines had fretted over her dish, she needn’t have. When the feedback judge came around, Hines’ dish was his favorite.”He said it was perfect,” Hines said beaming. “It was such a gratification to hear that, more than I can say.”The boys were less enamored with the judge, who was more critical of their appetizer and entree. He said the salad was too large and too complicated, that the quail eggs should have been chopped instead of halved and that he would have liked to see something crunchy in the entree. “We were really happy with our plates until he got there,” Lefebvre said. McNeill said he considered retorting, but uncharacteristically held his tongue.However, Paul Ferzacca, one of the team’s mentor chefs, along with Dave Sanchez, said the judge might have had some good ideas, which they may incorporate before they go to the national competition from April 30 to May 2 in Charlotte, N.C.
“We could have easily walked away without placing,” Ferzacca said. “It’s very subjective, but our food tasted phenomenal.”But there isn’t much time to relax. Nationals are just around the corner. The students are cautiously optimistic about their chances at nationals. They know they’ll be up against some fierce competition, but Wible is more confident. “I think we have a really great chance of winning,” she said. But as for Hines, well, she’s just happy he gets another chance to perfect her dessert.Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado
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