Oak Harbor High School culinary team cooks up first place at state

Salty sea bass with a touch of sweet maple glaze, steak cooked both tender and rare, goat cheese mousse and chocolate curls colored with cocoa butter --- these may not seem like the kind of dishes students can cook in one hour using two butane burners and no electrical appliances, but the Wildcat Culinary Team turned up the heat at the state ProStart competition in Olympia March 2 and 3 and cooked up another sweet success.

Their first place win means the team will compete in nationals in April, held in Baltimore, Md.

This is the fifth time in the last six years that OHHS has taken state.

OHHS’s new culinary arts teacher, Mary Arthur, and 10-year mentor Scott Fraser, chef and owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, led the team.

The team consists of senior Amanda McElhiney, responsible for the appetizer; junior Racheal Balasa, responsible for the entree; junior Ainsley McLoud, responsible for the dessert; senior Morgan Murphy, who contributed to all dishes; and sophomore Haley Garden, alternate.

Taste the gourmet three-course meal yourself at the team’s fundraiser for their trip to Baltimore. The meal begins at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 15 at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor. Culinary students will prepare the meal and restaurant management students will serve for a donation of $65. For reservations, call 279-1231.

“It looked like everyone was going to have a nervous breakdown,” team member Racheal Balasa said of competition day.

“Compared to other teams, you guys were the calmest team up there,” Fraser said.

Cooking at the competition isn’t like cooking in a kitchen. No electrical appliances are allowed so students come up with creative ways to cook, like McElhiney’s method for smoking the sea bass. Smoking fish usually takes much longer than one hour so at the competition, McElhiney said she sealed the fish in a bag and used a pipe-like device with apple chips to torch it, which is something Fraser has never seen at a competition.

“You have to think outside the box because you’re so limited with what they give you,” Fraser said.

Students have to measure ingredients beforehand, so there’s no room for mistakes. But after making the meal twice a week for six weeks --- which meant eating the meal each time, of course --- plus the 70 dishes they made during their first fundraiser, the students knew their meal inside and out.

As prepared as the students were, the win didn’t come without a burst of adrenaline. One mishap caused the team to finish six seconds late, costing them half a point but not the win.

With four minutes left in the competition, team members realized they’d forgotten to sear the steak, but they managed to complete it and the judges loved it.

“Every year, each team gets my heart racing, but they came through like always and finished with flying colors,” Fraser said.

The team will travel to Baltimore from April 26 to May 1. They also plan to visit Washington, D.C. since none of them have been there before.

“Hopefully, we’ll finish up in the top five,” Fraser said. The team finished second last year.

Each team member was offered scholarships to culinary schools around the nation. They received $150,000 total; the national competition offers $3 million in scholarships.

The restaurant management team also competed at the state competition and earned second place, meaning they won’t go to nationals this year. Oak Harbor was the only community to have both teams on the winners’ platform.

Team members senior Jacob Alden and juniors Michelle Lambert and Connor Quijano learned valuable skills with their restaurant conception, which included all business aspects of creating a restaurant from the ground up. The group designed a board, written proposal and presentation for their restaurant, “Slow Food on the Go.”

The restaurant featured food that’s related to the Slow Food movement, meaning it’s sourced regionally and good for the environment and consumers, Lambert said. Dishes included Whidbey chili and a San Juan black bean and chicken wrap.

The group worked out marketing schemes, pricing and how to answer tough questions from the judges professionally.

“It really mimics what I plan on doing after high school, after college: a small diner serving Slow Food,” Alden said.


Taste the team’s success

Help the culinary team raise funds to attend nationals in Baltimore.

When: 6 p.m. Sunday, April 15.

Where: Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, 1191 SE Dock St., Oak Harbor.

How much: $65.

Reservations: 279-1231.


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