Culinary team to compete in April state competition

Reed City senior one of five members

BIG RAPIDS — Although not competing in Kitchen Stadium, five local teens are bringing their Iron Chef skills to the table.

Students Joseph Sheffer, Dan Forgue, Jazmine Meyer, Heather Buckley and Shevy Upson make up a team within the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center culinary arts program. Working together, the team placed second at last month's SkillsUSA regional competition in Muskegon. Now, the group will compete against more than 10 other teams during the state competition on Friday, April 17, at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.

With a four-course Chilean-themed menu the students created and designed, they strive to perfect serving etiquette, table display, contrasting and complimentary textures, balancing flavors and plating presentation. All of those details and more will be judged at the upcoming event as the team will do their best to complete the dishes in one hour.

"This is all student-driven," said Jennifer Upham, culinary arts instructor at the career center. "We give them constructive criticism and tell them what the judges are looking for, and they take it from there."

The menu consists of chilled avocado soup topped with pico de gallo and fried tortilla chips, salmon ceviche with fire-roasted red pepper and cilantro alongside toasted crustini slices, an entree of chicken breast marinated in house-made barbecue sauce topped with warm corn relish under a honey-mango sauce and rice pilaf, and sopapillas with sauteed apples in a citrus sauce and Chantilly cream.

Dan Forgue, a senior at Reed City High School, is one of the five team members helping get the job done.

"I feel confident about the menu, but we just need more practice" he said. "I'm trying my best to use the constructive criticism we get."

Forgue has been interested in culinary arts since he was in third grade and saw one of the most popular Food Network chefs on television.

"I saw the show 'Emeril Live,' and since then it's been all about food," Forgue added.

He said he still enjoys cooking at home and is looking forward to next month's competition.

Upham said the team still has work to do, including improving their organizational and time management skills. Other details regarding the menu will be tweaked and tested as they keep cooking the same items until the date of competition.

If the students place in the top three, they may receive scholarship money toward colleges which offer culinary arts programs.

"I'm excited for them," Upham said about the team reaching the state level. "I want to see them grow from this. A positive learning experience is all that matters."

The team created the entire menu for a practice session on March 11. Career center Principal Mike Miller, former career center culinary arts instructor Rodney Baldus and former culinary arts student Leelan Nickisson were on hand to critique each dish and the serving etiquette after sampling each plate. They provided their opinions on the food items and gave suggestions about what and how to improve certain aspects of the menu, as well as how to better organize themselves in the kitchen.

"I enjoyed the menu. They had good choices," Baldus said. "I think the team competing at the state level is a great opportunity to learn and build teamwork."

Miller, who has taste-tested the dishes several times for the team, agreed. He is seeing improvement and believes practicing is paying off.

"I think they have a great team," he said. "They're doing everything they can to make sure they aren't just providing a meal. If they can focus on the details, they have a great chance at placing at state."