The four student chefs stood in front of their judges nervously.
They’d spent their mornings putting together a dish that would take them to the state-level culinary competition. It was nerve-racking and challenging, but it was also fun.
“It’s like ‘Chopped,’” said sophomore Andrew Burleson, breaking the ice with laughter as the boys waited to hear who’d won.
Andrew and fellow chefs Joey Antonucci, Matt Brown and Cody Qurollo were competing Jan. 24 for three spots on Topsail High School’s culinary team at the state Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition. They were required to make a pork tenderloin and a side dish to serve to judges from four local restaurants. The students were judged on their dish’s taste. But they also had to have high marks in presentation, preparation skills and the cleanliness of their work stations.
And they had to do it all in an hour.
Topsail High culinary teacher Kelly Painter has been holding the competition for four years now, she said. She started it because “honestly, I don’t have the heart to cut somebody from the team,” she said.
But it also gives the students the kind of experience they’ll need to compete at the state level. There, they’ll work together as a team and be judged on how well they complete a four-course meal.
During the competition, all four boys started with a heads-down, focused sense of urgency. As the morning wore on, with Painter yelling out a time check every 15 minutes, that urgency turned into more of a controlled chaos.
Andrew stayed confident. He’d written his own recipe for a special pork rub with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans, and he said he felt like the hard work he’d put in over the year would pay off. Joey and Cody were a bit more worried, both asking Painter to update them on the time. Joey had made his honey-glazed pork for his parents the night before, but it had taken him two hours instead of one. And Cody discovered that it’s not easy to roast a tenderloin, chop herbs and puree sweet potatoes while the clock is ticking.
Matt, searing his tenderloin and sautéing tomatoes with zucchini, stayed quiet.
When the hour was up, the judges doled out compliments to each student chef with a helping of constructive criticism as they cleaned their plates. They ultimately decided to send Andrew, Joey and Cody to the competition, which will be held at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte next month.
But first, time to do the dishes.