By Mike LaBella
---- — Student chefs at Whittier Regional High were named the best in the state, and they’re heading to a national competition to give final proof they know their way around a kitchen.
Considered the “Super Bowl” for high school culinary arts students, the 12th annual National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore will bring together students from 43 states and U.S. territories to compete for $1.4 million in scholarships.
Their dishes will be judged by master chefs and culinary arts instructors from across the country in the restaurant-management and culinary-arts competition being held this weekend.
The team of culinary arts students from Whittier were recently named the best student chefs in the state. The team prepared a three-course meal that dazzled judges at the Massachusetts Restaurant Association’s ProStart Culinary Competition, held in Cambridge earlier this month. Whittier’s student chefs topped those from nine other schools, earning them a coveted spot in the national competition.
“Being judged the best in the state feels amazing,” Whittier senior Brandon Lopez of Bradford said.
“It all came down to the very last second,” said senior Christine Barton of Haverhill. “It was such a thrill. It was very stressful, but we were determined to win.”
For junior Adam Caroll of Rowley, who was competing for his first time, staying calm was the biggest obstacle.
“I don’t think I have ever been that nervous,” he said. “And shaking hands and knives don’t go well together.”
The team of five students, which also includes senior Brittany Johnson of Groveland and junior Samantha Sullivan of Bradford, spent three to four days a week after school since November practicing for the recent ProStart event. Whittier students took third and fourth place in past events, but never first until this year.
“They were very focused on what they were doing and it really showed,” said Whittier chef instructor William Yameen. “The compliments they received from the judges were unbelievable. The executive chef at the Colonnade in Boston said their professionalism, presentation and taste were flawless.”
At the state ProStart event, The Whittier students were required to cook an entire meal in 60 minutes or less using only two burners to prepare the three courses. They finished in 59 minutes, 59 seconds. Their menu featured an appetizer of pan-seared scallops with potato puree and veal demi-glace and an entree of pan-roasted lamb loin with Parmesan risotto, sauteed spinach and baby Portobello mushrooms. They topped off the meal with a dessert of fried cinnamon pear dumplings with pear compote, cinnamon whipped cream and macerated Limoncello berries.
Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Cambridge hosted the competition.
Whittier’s team won’t have it any easier at the national event. They’ll have to prepare a three-course meal in 60 minutes, using only two butane burners with no access to running water or electricity, according to the event’s website. Teams will be evaluated on taste, skill, teamwork, safety and sanitation. Airfare and hotel fees for the Whittier students’ trip to Baltimore are being paid for by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
“When I hear ‘nationals,’ I say, ‘Bring it on,’” Lopez said. “I feel our team is so ready for this.”
“We will be getting back to the routine of practicing vigorously,” Carroll said about the national competition.
“If we perform like we did at states, or even better, then we have a good chance at placing,” Barton said. “Competing against 43 other schools is nerve-racking, but we are all confident and prepared.”
Whittier culinary students have won the restaurant management part of the state competition in the past. This year’s team finished fourth out of eight teams that competed in that section of the event.
Whittier’s winning dishes
:Appetizer: Pan-seared scallops with potato puree and veal demi-glace
Entree: Pan-roasted lamb loin with Parmesan risotto, sauteed spinach and baby Portobello mushrooms
Dessert: Fried cinnamon pear dumplings with pear compote, cinnamon whipped cream and macerated Limoncello berries
Whittier's winning dishes :Appetizer: Pan-seared scallops with potato puree and veal demi-glace Entree: Pan-roasted lamb loin with Parmesan risotto, sauteed spinach and baby Portobello mushrooms Dessert: Fried cinnamon pear dumplings with pear compote, cinnamon whipped cream and macerated Limoncello berries