While mincing parsley, Kaylie Kemp never took her eyes off the sharp knife that she moved up and down over the lush greens. But as soon as she was done, her eyes flicked to the clock.
The high school junior had all semester to learn how to cook. Now it was time to practice cooking on a schedule.
Kemp and four students in the culinary class at Clovis High School came to the school last Saturday morning to practice for the ProStart New Mexico State Invitational in Albuquerque.
The competition is an “Iron Chef”-like competition where the teams have to cook a three-course meal in one hour.
Wednesday, the culinary team took third place and the management team took second at the competition. The CHS teams also took home the hospitality trophy for the highest number of overall points.
Teacher Judy Uerling said the students handled the pressure of the competition well.
“I could not be prouder. They more than rose to the occasion. Competition is a strenuous, demanding kind of thing and they were responsible and professional. They’re a terrific group of kids,” she said.
Uerling said the students have been working on perfecting the dishes most of the semester.
Each team of four had to make an entree of marinated strip steak with compound cream butter, a starch of orange and ancho chili saffron couscous and a vegetable of fresh steamed asparagus spears with a red pepper ring.
Kemp, in charge of making the couscous, said she enjoys cooking dishes that are more complex than every day dishes.
“I don’t like cooking normal things. I like cooking something different,” she said.
This is Kemp’s first year in the culinary class and her first time to go to a competition for anything.
“I’m excited. I’ve never been to anything like it. I’m so nervous,” she said.
Despite her nerves about the competition, Kemp said cooking helps her escape.
“Cooking is one of my passions. It’s one of my escapes just to cook and bring happiness to other people,” she said.
Working beside Kemp during their practice run was classmate and team captain Amanda Sandoval. She was charged with making the desert of chocolate covered no-bake cheesecake with berry. Sandoval said she enjoys cooking because she can try new things.
“It’s fun to go out and explore new and different places and learn their food,” the senior said.
Sandoval said she was excited about the competition, which she went to last year, because she looks forward to the input from the judges.
“I want to see how they like it and see what they think of the presentation of it,” she said.
But the competition isn’t all about cooking.
For the first time, Uerling is also took the management team as well as a culinary team.
The management team analyzed a restaurant case study and addressed situations from the point of view of different positions such as manager or chef.
The culinary team cooked as well as give a knife skills demonstration.
Whichever part of the competition the student is involved in, Uerling said competitions are good.
“Competition makes students rise to another level. It makes them stretch,” she said.
Being trained in the culinary arts provides employment opportunities as well, the teacher said.
“The food service business is one of the fastest growing career areas. It’s a great career ladder. These students have the opportunity to go into culinary school or go directly into the industry,” she said.