By DAVID GREEN
This is the season for basketball and wrestling tournaments, but those competitions have nothing over the excitement of a culinary arts contest.
Kitchen competition has its own thrills and spills—and ripped pastry bags.
Morenci juniors Taylor Baugh and Kira Bersoke both competed Feb. 28 in Kalamazoo at the regional SkillsUSA culinary competition, representing the Lenawee TECH Center. Both were chosen by class instructor and chef Corbin Day to represent Lenawee County at the regional event.
Taylor placed second in the commercial baking division—missing first place by a point—while Kira took fifth in the culinary arts competition. Kira just missed qualifying for the state competition next month in Lansing, but Taylor will move on to the finals.
It was anything but relaxing in the kitchen for Kira’s cooking competition. She went up against 16 other student cooks in a grueling three-hour contest to create an appetizer, an entrée and dessert.
Practicing for the event isn’t really possible, because none of the competitors know what they will be asked to prepare until they enter the kitchen. That’s when they’re given three recipes and the ingredients. Then the clock begins ticking.
Students were asked to make a blue cheese chicken roll-up for the entrée, a salad for the appetizer and a crêpe for the dessert.
“It is crazy in my competition. People are rushing around to do everything,” Kira said. “There are four judges that walk around and watch while you are cooking.”
It’s not just the final outcome that judges are interested in.
“The judges really watch you during the competition to see how you cut items and how sanitary you are when you cook.”
Washing hands, changing gloves, washing cutting boards and other utensils—every step of the way comes under the judges’ scrutiny.
Taylor had a long day behind her before she even stepped into the competition area. Students arrived in Kalamazoo at 8 a.m., but she didn’t compete until noon.
When the “start” command was given, Taylor went to her dough and started making danishes. Then she moved on to fruit scones, rolls and macaroon cookies before working on her cake.
“I was good on time while making bread, then I slowed down a little,” she said.
She had to place a filling in the center of the cake and then decorate it in a birthday theme for someone named Nancy.
“I was just making my flowers when they said 10 minutes left,” Taylor recalls. “At this time I had all my bread out and displayed, and my cake was frosted, so the only thing I needed to do was add details and write on my cake.
“I was so scared that I wasn't going to get done. I was shaking and crying.”
She was also running and pushing her way through the other competitors. They pushed back.
“We were all freaked out by that time,” Taylor said. “I only had five minutes left. I was starting to write on the cake and the tips blew out of the [pastry] bag, all my bags ripped.”
Now she was really panicking and wondering what to do. She tried to finish writing “Best Wishes” on the cake, then displayed it and started cleaning up. That’s when she got a nosebleed.
She was glad when the event finally ended, but she was also really pleased to compete for the first time and to take home a medal.
Now she can go back to practicing until the state finals April 20 in Lansing. And that frantic ordeal from the regional competition? She’s pushed that memory aside and she’s ready to go at it again.
“Overall I had a blast and I’m very excited to do this again for state,” she said.
For Kira, she has her sights set on another culinary competition—the Pro-Start contest March 18-19 in Lansing.
This time she’ll work with a team of three other TECH Center students. There are no surprises in this contest because each team uses its own recipes to cook an appetizer, entrée and dessert in one hour.
At the SkillsUSA event, competitors could roam anywhere in the kitchen in an effort to get it all accomplished. At ProStart, the work area is partitioned off and team members must remain within their allotted space.
“ProStart will be much more difficult,” Kira said, “because it is one of the toughest cooking competitions for high schoolers.”
She wants nothing short of a state championship and the opportunity to attend the national competition in Baltimore.