Burgers and fries might be on the minds of many teens these days, but not all. Some have discerning palates and a more sophisticated notion of what makes a great meal, and a select few don’t mind battling it out to see who’s the best in the kitchen.
Students from eight DeKalb County high schools engaged in such a battle in late March at the fifth Annual Iron Chef Culinary Competition. Held in a professional kitchen at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Tucker, the event gave students the opportunity to come up with a meal, prepare it and have it judged.
The kitchen swirled with activity during the height of the cooking time that began around 10 a.m. and lasted until approximately 2 p.m. With an array of ingredients to choose from, the students spent the day prepping, seasoning, cooking and plating their dishes.
Lakeside High School senior Jimmy Cheng, 19, was vigorously stirring a roux and he was nervous. His sauce was slightly salty, and he hoped the addition of the roux might temper it just a touch.
“I am trying my best not to do anything wrong,” said Cheng.
Cheng and his teammates were working on a pan-seared salmon with sautéed green beans with fennel and shallots and duchess potatoes. A first-timer to the competition, Cheng said he was thrilled to be there. Although he had practiced making his dish at school, the kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu was a “different atmosphere,” according to Cheng.
Adryan Belton, 20, of Warren Tech admitted that the competition was a bit unnerving.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said Belton, pointing out that many people were watching what he and two fellow students were doing at a prep table. “You just have to adjust.”
Warren Tech served up a brown sugar crusted salmon with sautéed spinach and an orange cream sauce as well as sauteed potato with dill.
After stuffing spinach inside chicken breasts and making sure the accompanying marsala sauce was just right, the McNair High School team also turned out a warm pear soup.
For Kiara Falcher, 15, of Arabia Mountain High School, one of two schools competing for the first time, the event was a good way to test her skills. “I think it’s really good. It helps us prep for what it’s going to be like in the future,” said Falcher, who hopes to own a restaurant one day.
Over at Southwest DeKalb’s table, students labored to turn poultry and vegetables into a pesto chicken with a vegetable medley and couscous.
Judge Corey Stephens of Thompson Brothers Barbecue was impressed with what he observed.
“I think it’s remarkable,” said Stephens. “It’s good to see this many kids in culinary arts–it wasn’t this way when I was growing up–and to see this many men in culinary arts.”
John Kanadu, a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu and one of the three judges, said the young people showed considerable enthusiasm even though they lack experience.
“They are doing pretty well,” said Kanadu. He noted that one team in particular had made a strong impression on him. “They clean as they go and they are showing good teamwork and effort.”
And while the students worked intensely in the kitchen, outside in a hallway separated by a bank of glass windows were parents, teachers and other supporters who appeared anxious.
Participating in this year’s competition were: Arabia Mountain, Columbia, Lakeside, McNair, Redan, Southwest DeKalb, Towers and Warren Technical high schools.
Warren Tech took first place (scoring in the 90s out of 100 points), Columbia came in second and Arabia Mountain took third place. The Arabia Mountain team produced five dishes, including a spinach/chicken ravioli with an alfredo sauce, and Columbia plated chicken stuffed with spinach and crepes with apples. Teams were judged on originality, skills, safety and sanitation, presentation and team work.