Vail Valley’s young champion chefs at work |

Vail Valley’s young champion chefs at work

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyBart Clark, right, and Pearl Burkham design their plates.

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” There’s a fancy word for what Rudy Sosa is doing to a shallot ” brunoise.

With an extremely sharp knife, he makes a series of thin cuts through the shallot, turns his knife flat and parallel to the table for a couple more cuts, then he turns the shallot 90 degrees and starts chopping, and hundreds of tiny, uniform pieces fall to the cutting board.

It’s a difficult way to chop a vegetable, he says, and there’s a good chance some judges will be carefully watching his technique.

He’s one of four members of the ProStart chef team, which won the state championship for the seventh time in nine years this past March. Later this month, they’ll be traveling to San Diego to compete for the national championship, which they hope to win for the second year in a row.

The mission is to create a three course meal in 60 minutes on two burners and a couple banquet tables. Their menu is ambitious and complicated: seared scallops with a scallion crispy noodle pancake and red Thai curry sauce for a starter; pan roasted five-spice duck breast with a duck potsicker and mushroom tapioca pudding with a star anise sauce for the entree; and for dessert, a passion fruit Bavarian with passion fruit sorbet, pomegranate sauce and a macadamia nut brittle.

Even after several practices, it’s still tough to finish their meal within the allotted hour. At their first practice months ago, it took them around three hours.

Bart Clark is pounding edamame, or soy beans, turning it into a finely textured green paste, which he transfers to a piping bag that will decorate the scallop dish.

“That was the hardest part for me ” getting that steady hand to use the piping bag,” he says.

In between calling out how much time is left on the clock, Pearl Burkham uses a tiny roller to flatten the dough for the duck pot stickers, which will later be browned in hot oil. She’s also started a assembly line for blanching vegetables, dropping baskets of asparagus, carrots, onions and water chestnuts into a pot of boiling water.

On top of those baskets in the boiling water sits a bowl filled with slowly melting chocolate.

Julia Schorr is preparing the dessert ” separating egg whites from yolks, slicing pears, mixing the sorbet and slowly toasting macadamia nuts for the brittle.

The end comes in a hurry. With a few minutes left on the clock, the chefs focus on meticulous plating. Schorr draws a half-heart on a plate with melted chocolate, it hardens, then she pours in the dark pomegranate sauce.

Sosa slices the crusty duck breast and fans it on the plate, stacking it just right with the potsicker, the mushroom tapioca pudding and the blanched vegetables, spooning the anise sauce around the sides.

Clark cuts the seared scallops in half and places them on top of the crispy noodle pancake ” which is siting in a pool of the red Thai curry sauce.

It’s done. Now it’s time to taste.

This was just one of many practices they’ll have before the big competition, and the student chefs still have a few kinks to work out.

And the kinks are worked out through tasting. After every practice, they sit down together to eat and critique everything.

What looks sloppy? What needs salt? What’s undercooked? Is there anything missing?

“Near the beginning, we realized we weren’t putting enough five spice on the duck, we couldn’t really taste it,” Clark said. “Now we have it just right.”

While taste and presentation are important, these chefs will be graded sternly on sanitation, safety and technique. Judges will also analyze their menu, their cost estimations, their ingredient list ” basically the things any chef needs to be on top of to run a restaurant.

“We had to see how much everything would cost, and how to price it to make a profit,” Burkham said.

The students said they’ve learned a lot from their mentor chefs, Paul Ferzacca, Tom Walker, David Sanchez and Todd Rymer, who’ve taught them some defining attitudes needed for a successful kitchen.

“You season everything, you taste everything, and you clean up after every task,” Clark said.

Clark has worked in kitchens for years and likes the busy, fast-paced atmosphere, which is what turns many people away from the restaurant business. He’s looking forward to attending culinary school, and in the meantime, will keep cooking at school, at the Gashouse, and when he goes home for dinner.

“Some people think it’s a lot of work ” I think it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I’d rather be doing that than sitting at a desk.

The students won more than $12,000 a piece in scholarship money after the state competition, and could end up winning a lot more at nationals.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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