West Ranch High School cooks competition, secures menu item

Five schools in the William S. Hart Union School District competed at West Ranch High School Friday as teams of students in the district’s Culinary Arts program competed to earn a spot on the menu of a popular local restaurant.
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Future Master Chefs brought the heat to the kitchen Friday as teams of students in the William S. Hart Union School District’s Culinary Arts program competed to earn a spot on the menu of a popular local restaurant.

Five teams from four schools across the district cooked in the the third annual Culinary Throwdown, the brainchild of chef Mike McClintock.

Most participating students are part of the Career and College Readiness program in addition to the Culinary Arts Pathway capstone course, though one of Hart High School’s teams included three gentleman who had no prior experience cooking.

“The goal of the competition is to simulate a real-life kitchen,” McClintock said, speaking on the high energy and intensity that one feels when cooking at a restaurant.

“When we’re cooking in the classroom it’s pretty mellow,” the culinary arts instructor added. “But when most of these kids go into the field, then it’ll be very high-stress and this replicates that.”

Students competed Friday for a spot on Wolf Creek Brewery Co.’s menu and the Culinary Throwdown Plaque.

The teams composed of two or three students each had little more than an hour to prepare and cook their meals prior to presenting their final dishes to the four judges, who each would taste a piece of every plate.

“The only thing that’s required of students is they use a flat-iron steak,” McClintock said. “They can use any kind of sides, any vegetable and any sauce, but the main ingredient must be a flat iron steak.”

Seeing what the kids come up with is the best part of the competition, McClintock believes.

“It’s neat to see how everybody thinks differently,” he said. “They’re all starting with the same item but there’s so many interpretations.”

Last year’s winning dish was a salad, according to McClintock.

“It was offered for a week,” McClintock said, “but the response led the restaurant to make it a permanent item.”

This year’s winning dish was described as “a tropical surf and turf,” by co-owner of Wolf Creek Brewing Co. Laina McFerren, who shared that the dish will also be featured on the Wolf Creek menu at a date to be determined.

Shrimp, mint and mango were the main ingredients used in the meal prepared by West Ranch High School students, who will also bring home the Culinary Throwdown Plaque to pair with their new dish.

“Great job to all of the teams who participated,” McFerren said. “It was neck and neck and I’m impressed with the skill of these young folks.”

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