Nearly 50 young Alabama chefs battled to create tasteful masterpieces for the chance to win more than $100,000 in scholarships and prizes at the Culinary Arts Competition March 14 in Birmingham.
High school students in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) State Culinary Contest, held at Virginia College’s Culinard, had one hour to prepare an entree of sautéed chicken breast with broccoli and rice pilaf and an apple trifle dessert. The popular contest attracted 13 teams and is fashioned after the TV show Iron Chef. The four-member team from Huntsville Center for Technology, made entirely of 11th-graders, outshined all others and took home gold for the best dishes.
“I’m so excited,” said Karen Rodriguez, a 20-year culinary instructor at Huntsville Center for Technology who teaches and coached the winning team. “My summer will be busy helping them prepare for the national conference.”
Rodriguez said the team members practiced two full days for the competition. They gave it their all, she said, adding one of those days, she brought in two professional chefs to help guide the students.
As state champions, Rodriguez’s team will go on to compete at the National FCCLA Contest during the organization’s leadership conference this July in Washington, D.C.
Rodriguez said contests like the one her students won do more than showcase top chefs.
“This is a great way for students to step out of their comfort zones, even if they don’t pursue a career in culinary arts,” she said.
Students learn organization skills, teamwork, the importance of following directions and working under pressure.
The contest kitchen at Culinard appeared to be in a state of organized chaos during the competition. Students raced to and from stoves and scampered to add final touches to their dishes as the timer ticked down to zero.
Winning team member Taylor Lanier said a big challenge in the competition was working in a small space with her teammates. But for Lanier, who expects to attend Johnson and Wales University to study culinary arts, working in tight quarters with the clock running helped add to the excitement.
Lanier said she was surprised to learn her team won the competition. As each team was announced one by one, she and other team members glanced at Rodriguez. Finally, as their team was announced, the group erupted with excitement.
Rodriguez said her students, “grow from the situation, no matter what the result is.”
For more event photos visit the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Facebook and Flickr page.