With aprons on and paring knives in hand, 24 local high school students competed in the Hart School District’s second annual Culinary Arts Throw Down Competition Friday afternoon.
Katie Mularky and Katie Armendariz, both 10th graders representing Saugus High School, dethroned Golden Valley High as the reigning champion with their chicken caprese on pasta.
“I think it definitely played on the strengths we learned in our program,” Armendariz said. “We’ve done a lot of chicken.”
The girls said they both enjoy the process of cooking and were happy to use the skills they learned in the Career and College Readiness afterschool cooking program.
Michael McClintock teaches the culinary professional class and served as a host and helper for the competition.
“It simulates a real-life kitchen,” McClintock said. “They get enjoyment out of it, but more importantly, they see what it’s like.”
The event tested the skills the students learned in their classes and taught them time management in the kitchen.
“Taking something that’s simple and making it complex is going to set apart the winners,” he said.
All students had to make a chicken dish that included a vegetable and a starch and was rated on creativity, taste and presentation. The winning dish will be featured for a week at Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewery’s menu and winners received gift certificates.
Laina McFerren, owner of Wolf Creek, served as one of six judges and complimented the participants’ dishes and said she enjoyed the judging experience.
“It’s really fun after years of watching food television shows to be on this side of it,” McFerren said.
College of the Canyons Department Chair for Culinary Arts and Wine Studies Cindy Schwanke also served as a judge and said the high school culinary program was a great feed in for collegiate culinary school.
“It’s a great synergy in Santa Clarita,” Schwanke said. “I want to pay forward my passion and give back to students.”
Daniel Otto, culinary professor at College of the Canyons, said many students who become involved with cooking in high school have an advantage professionally.
“It’s a great pathway for the Hart District and also a pathway for College of the Canyons,” Otto said. “It’s a tough business to get into, it’s a tough craft. The sooner you can get into it, especially at this age, the more disciplined you’re going to be so you can be a rock star later.”
Tracie Priske, culinary arts teacher at West Ranch High, said having fun and getting real world experience was the most important part of the event.
“The whole purpose is to get them into an industrial kitchen and have them experience that,” Priske said.
Valencia High culinary arts teacher Melinda Wignal said the event allowed students to feel like they were part of something greater by interacting with students from other programs.
“The students got to pick the recipes they wanted to compete with,” Wignal said. “I’m letting them do their thing. I’ll help a little bit, but it’s their time to shine.”
Skyler Sheridan, a 12th grade student from Valencia High, said participating in the competition made her feel a good kind of nervous. Flavor profile and presentation are the most important aspects of a meal, and being bold in the kitchen leads to success, she said.
“In order to be a force to be reckoned with, you need to be creative,” Sheridan said. “When I realized I wanted to do this for a living, it became more fun.”
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