Wildcat culinary team earns second in nation

The Oak Harbor High School culinary team rushes to finish on-time during the National Prostart Invitational April 30 to May 3.  - Photo courtesy of Leandra Reuble
The Oak Harbor High School culinary team rushes to finish on-time during the National Prostart Invitational April 30 to May 3.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Leandra Reuble

The culinary team at Oak Harbor High School cooked up another win last week and returned home with their biggest prize yet —national silver medals.

The four-member team competed against 300 students from 39 states and territories at the National Prostart Invitational to see who possessed the best culinary technique.

In the past four years, Team Oak Harbor has been the reigning state champions, and ranked high in previous nationals. However, it was the team’s first year to break into the nation’s top five.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” said senior team captain Luke Felkner.

The teens had only 60 minutes to prepare a high-end, three-course meal. And all they could use were kitchen utensils, a cooler and two butane burners.

During the contest, the team huddled over burners or cutting boards as they cooked, sliced, jumped over coolers and rushed to finish within the time limit. Reuble and mentor Scott Fraser of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, stood at the back of the crowd anxiously counting the seconds on the digital timer.

“I was pacing and Scott was about to turn himself inside out,” said Reuble. “You can’t say anything to the team throughout or they could be disqualified.”

“I just thought, ‘Go a little faster.’”

The team finished the timed event with only four seconds to spare.

Felkner said his team remained very calm, in spite of a growing crowd and ever-approaching deadline. His trick for steadying the team’s nerves?

“I sang to myself,” he said. “I think it was an old song... ‘Santa Baby.’ The judges came by and starting singing along too.”

The menu the team presented included a calamari shrimp and panzanella salad appetizer, deconstructed beef short rib and a white chocolate and hazelnut tower.

The judges were impressed with the team’s consistency (the food appeared exactly as they did in the photos), and loved the dessert, said Felkner, but had one critique about the portion size.

“They said we were generous on the appetizers, which I don’t think is a bad thing,” said Felkner.

The first-place title went to Kansas culinary students, who won the competition in their home state. The cook-off was held in Overland Park, Kan.

Along with accolades of being at the top tier of high school chefs, the Oak Harbor students received cash, gifts and scholarships to some of the nation’s best culinary schools. Le Cordon Bleu Schools, for example, offers $7,500 each for the second-place team.

The Prostart competition also launches careers in management, and Oak Harbor’s restaurant management team competed at the national level for the first time this year.

The group, led by Leandra Reuble, created a detailed business plan for starting a chain of eco-friendly restaurants. They presented their plans to a panel of judges and should receive their final score in the coming weeks.

“It was great for networking,” said senior Ashley Kutzley. “We met with the president of the Washington Restaurant Association.”

The culinary arts program has had several proud moments this year, and Reuble hopes the wins will help expand the program. This fall, the students will move into a new culinary arts classroom, as part of renovations being made to the high school campus.

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