Culinary students compete, learn professionalism at Skills USA

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Marguerite Alberts, spotlight editor

Students of Chef Rick Leece’s culinary classes, Intro to Culinary Arts and Advanced Culinary Arts, attended the annual Skills USA Competition last weekend in San Diego. While the competition serves to allow students from across the state to prove their skills in many different areas, Beverly’s representatives went to demonstrate their culinary expertise. As a reward, successful students were made eligible for scholarships and grants.

The competition consists of three parts that are considered for all participants: an interview, job demo and the competition itself which is a job skill demonstration.

“Job skill demonstration, is a part of a competition where you explain your skill that you’ve learned in or out of school,” sophomore Joel Gabai said. “It could be anything really, I just so happened to choose a food related item to demo for the judge.”

The first two events occurred prior to the competition. Anyone in Leece’s classes who wanted to participate were allowed. The selection of who went was made by students.

“I really just allowed students to sign up as they wanted, so if they were interested in the event they could sign up for it,” Leece said. “If they wanted to be involved and I thought they were capable of doing it, then I allowed them to compete.”

During the job demo, participants had to demonstrate their cooking abilities while explaining what they were making to an audience.

“In the demo, I made Vietnamese spring rolls,” sophomore Victoria Unzon said. “I picked those because I have made it so many times for the Open House for the culinary program. I just wanted to do something really nice for [the judges] and present them [the dish].”

While Unzon found that the interview went well, her fellow contender, senior Evan Carl, had a more negative experience.

“I participated in the regionals and got 9th out of 26th in the cooking version. In the job interview, I didn’t do as well.”

Despite his unsuccessful interview and the inconvenient timing caused by the event conflicting with prom, Carl still attended the competition as a representative of the school, but focused more on the business aspects of a culinary career.

In San Diego, Gabai met people from across the region, learning about different trades and cooking techniques.

“I had a ton of fun meeting people from various parts of California that represented their school in subjects like automotive, architectural drafting, welding, carpentry, and more,” he said.

While planning for the competition, Leece generally remained hands off, allowing the students to make many of the decisions on their own.

“I really just give them guidance and help them with ideas,” Leece said. “I really try to let them do it on their own, formulate their own ideas and creativity, because otherwise what’s the point if I am doing it all for them.”

Both Unzon and Gabai spent their time in class as well as extra hours outside of school preparing for the trip to San Diego.

“I prepared for this competition by coming to the culinary kitchen on my own free time to hone my skills on chopping down the vegetables, imitation crab and especially cooking the rice,” Gabai said. “I started my preparation since the day I got the notice that I advanced to state, which was approximately a month and a half before the actual state competition.”

In the competition, students had a total of seven minutes to prepare a dish including all of the ingredients from a list previously provided to them.

Unzon prepared seared tuna with a cucumber salad.

“I wanted to try something new and I have never actually worked with the ingredients that I chose,” Unzon said. “I wanted to try something quick and easy to do.”

Unzon was one of two students actually competing in the primary competition. Fellow colleague Gabai prepared California Rolls.

“For my job demonstration, I made a California sushi roll to pay a tribute to my state,” Gabai said. “My roll consisted of carrots, cucumbers, jalapiños and a creamy spicy aoili sauce.”

Overall, Gabai enjoyed participating in the competition and felt confident going in.

“I wasn’t nervous at all because I felt very confident and comfortable demonstrating to the judge how to make sushi,” Gabai said.

Neither Gabai nor Unzon advanced to nationals and their overall scores have yet to be released.

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