Student Culinary Competition: "When Flipping Burgers Just Isn't Enough"

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Students armed with knives are set to meet at Westside High School on February 20. Local school districts know all about it and are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

At issue:

  • Knife skills: who can chop, slice and dice vegetables at the precise direction of a professional chef
  • Cooking skills: who can do the best job of putting together an appetizer, entrée and desert combo
  • Presentation skills: as in, what does the menu you develop look like
  • Tackling a chicken: break down a whole chicken in a presentable - not hacking - way.

It's the first-ever Food Service Prep/ProStart Launch regional competition being held in Houston, and it's open to the public. Teams from eight local high schools will compete - the top three get to go on to state to meet the top finishers from other regional competitions (in Dallas and Austin). The one winner at state goes on to nationals. And all of them have the chance to win scholarship money.

The Greater Houston Restaurant Association and its parent, the Texas Restauraut Association, are the moving forces behind this. A few years back, the Texas Restaurant Association developed a culinary curriculum that more and more high schools are including, says GHRA Executive Director Rene Zamore. The courses are offered at the junior and senior level, although some spots have opened up to sophomores because of demand on the students' part, Zamore says.

Teams can range in size from one to four students. Their meals have to include a vegetable, a starch and a protein.

If students make it through the culinary curriculum in high school, they'll graduate with a certification that means they can walk off the stage and start in any restaurant that same day and at a higher pay scale, she says.

The culinary course develops a skill set that goes beyond what many students can remember from whatever home ec course they took in the distant past - and not all home ec teachers are embracing the changes, Zamore says. Still, for students raised on a diet of shows like Top Chef, knowing how to flip a burger just isn't enough anymore, she says.

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