Cooking up a big culinary achievement

COSTA MESA — Newport Harbor High School's culinary arts students will represent California at the nationals later this month after winning a state competition.

On April 7, Newport Harbor's culinary and management teams each took first-place finishes at the California ProStart Competition at Cal Poly Pomona's Collins College of Hospitality Management.

"When they announced that our culinary team had won state, we were just ridiculously excited," said senior Luke Fischer, 18. "It was unbelievable how happy we were."

The culinary team — which includes Fischer, Jazmin Eck, Kelly Hackett, Jessenia Hernandez and Marcus McGee, and the management team of Kellyn Perham, Kimberly Tessers and Eliza Stubbings — are part of the Coastline Regional Occupational Program's culinary arts program.

The management team created a restaurant concept covering everything from marketing and the menu to staff and the floor plan. They had 10 minutes to sell the idea to a group judges as if they were investors, said instructor Janet Dukes.

The culinary team had one hour to bring its menu to life using two butane stoves and no running water or electricity, she said.

The students created a menu of seared scallops and braised bacon with blood orange, Serrano chile and micro greens, with a white wine braising ju for an appetizer, Fischer said.

The entrée was spiced filet mignon with Parisian scoop potatoes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and beech mushrooms with a red wine demi-glace for the entrée. For dessert, it was a chocolate cake with passion fruit crème fouettée, and rosemary and black pepper mousse with a passion fruit coulis, he said.

"They have to make a five-star recipe like they're camping," Dukes said.

It has been a long road for the students to get to nationals. They have been practicing nearly 40 hours a week for the last two months working under Dukes and mentors Nanette McWhertor, Emeliano Nino and Joshua Garcia, said Fischer, who is in his first year on the culinary team.

The teams have been learning from past competitors, trying to anticipate what is expected and learn from judges' critiques, Dukes said.

"Newport Harbor High School students do well most years," said Alycia Harshfield, executive director of the California Restaurant Assn. Educational Foundation, which sponsored the competition. "They are very tough competitors. The students are very driven, they are very focused and they dedicate countless hours to their practice, so they are ready."

Through the competitions, the students are exposed to industry contacts, judges with varied backgrounds and get the opportunity to showcase their technical skills and creativity, Harshfield said.

"They learn how to interact with professionals," Harshfield said. "They're getting life skills, they're learning how to work as a team, they're learning how to work under pressure."

The teams won scholarships and sponsorships from the Cheesecake Factory Oscar and Evelyn Overton Charitable Foundation to represent California April 29 through May 1 in the National ProStart Invitational in Kansas.

Newport Harbor's teams will compete against 40 other schools in the culinary category and 36 schools in the management category, Harshfield said.

"We're nervous, but it's a good nervous," Fischer said.

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