Chugiak sophomore Mikayla Hardman fills raspberry tarts in Kathleen Vik's culinary arts class March 21 at the school. The class was in the final stages of putting together food for more than 300 people expected at a JROTC reception the following day at Chugiak.
Star Photo by Matt Tunseth
Fast-arriving food dished up by teenagers typically means burgers, fries and chocolate shakes handed through a drive-through window. That's not how the students in Kathy Vik's ProStart culinary arts class roll.
How about pan-seared scallops, rack of lamb and a triple crème panna cotta for dessert instead?
That's part of the menu used by the three-member team of Sierra Carr, Alesa Noe and Andrew Bratcher to take second place in the statewide ProStart competition held last month in Anchorage.
"We were in the zone," Bratcher said during the class' regular period on March 21.
The team had just one hour to complete their meal, which they designed with the help of mentor chefs Colour Linden and Sara Bridges of South restaurant in downtown Anchorage. And they also had to do so while calmly undergoing a grilling from the judges.
"They complimented us because we were working as we were answering," Bratcher said.
The group also scored big points in the knife skills competition, where Carr dazzled the professional chef judges with her ability to reduce a whole chicken to its bare essentials in less than seven minutes.
"Even the chefs were blown away," Vik said. "She took the chicken and completely cut the whole thing apart and laid it out formally in six and a half minutes, which all of them said their own chefs couldn't do."
The three cooking stars learned many of their skills in ProStart, which Vik said is part of a nationwide program designed to get kids on a career path into the culinary industry. Their skills were honed with a combination of classroom learning and hands-on cooking with real-world applications, which included cooking for more than 300 guests at a recent JROTC inspection reception at Chugiak.
For that event, the students had to join forces to create a smorgasbord of goodies ranging from raspberry mousse tarts and chocolate-dipped strawberries to ham sandwiches, deviled eggs and veggies. And they had to do it (mostly) within the confines of their hour-long third period.
"If we have to, we'll stay into fourth hour," said sophomore Mikayla Hardman while mixing filling for the raspberry tarts.
In the past, students in the class have cooked for large groups, including the Tom Huffer, Sr., field dedication and the Lion's Club banquet. For her work instilling professional-level skills in her teenage students, Vik was recently named the ProStart Alaska Teacher of the Year, earning a free trip to the program's national convention in Chicago later this year.
"That should be fun," she said.
Vik said many of the students who take the class have hopes of going into the food industry. Junior Devon Williams, who wants to be a Navy chef, said the group is a mix of professional-minded students and more casual cookers.
"Some just want to learn to cook better, others actually want to go into the business," he said, expertly chopping celery for the veggie tray.
Williams is also a JROTC student, and said he likes that he can get both military and culinary training while still in high school.
"Chugiak's pretty good about that," he said.
Sierra Carr, who said she wants to go into the Coast Guard but still isn't sure if she wants to cook professionally, said the class also teaches valuable life lessons.
"You have to know how to work with people," said Carr, a hockey goalie who said cooking and sports have a lot in common. "Timing is very important and you've got to communicate."
Vik said she teaches her students to use their strengths to complement each other in order to create the best possible product in the shortest time possible. Students in the class usually cook in two- or three-person teams that work autonomously, only asking questions if they're stumped on a tricky recipe or ingredient.
"They tend to help each other out a lot," she said. "The teamwork is critical."
Although they get to learn high-level skills in an independent environment, students in the class said there is one big drawback of being the chefs behind the scenes.
"I was nearly in tears the other day when I spent two class periods making these cookies that I didn't even get to eat," said sophomore Tyler Fox.
That's not entirely true. The students do get to eat whatever's left over, and many said their favorite part of the class is the "pig out" sessions held the day after they cater big events.
But those sessions are few and far between. Most of the time, the students said the class is closer to work than school.
"What we're doing now is just practicing our skills," said Williams.
Hardman said she often feels like she really is at work while studying in Vik's class.
"It's like a job," she said. "Except we don't get paid."
Vik said a payday could be closer than it seems.
"They really are learning so many work-related skills," she said. "And food costs money, so they have to learn to do it correctly."
Contact Matt Tunseth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 694-2727 Ext. 215.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.