Aspiring Whidbey Island chefs featured on Food Network

Luke Felkner and Tyler Johnson feel the pressure of the camera while cooking in the National ProStart competition held in April in San Diego. - Photo courtesy of Scott Fraser
Luke Felkner and Tyler Johnson feel the pressure of the camera while cooking in the National ProStart competition held in April in San Diego.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Scott Fraser

Whidbey Island food buffs will get a chance to see how our student chefs performed in a national competition.

The National ProStart Invitational, in which the Oak Harbor High School Culinary Arts team placed eighth, will be featured on the Food Network Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m.

Guy Fieri, host of three shows on the popular culinary network, toured the national competition that took place last April in San Diego. He interviewed students as they were preparing their food.

Scott Fraser, owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway and a mentor to Oak Harbor High School’s culinary arts program, said the students handled the pressure of a national competition coupled with cameras filming for a national show well.

“The kids did an incredible job,” Fraser said, adding one of the members of the culinary team took the show as a chance to network.

Tyler Johnson, who was then a senior, slipped Fieri a business card with a handwritten message asking Fieri to give him a call after graduation.

The culinary team, also known as Wildcat Catering, competed against 40 other schools in the national competition.

Fraser said having the Food Network cover the ProStart Invitational provides some much-needed exposure for high school culinary programs, especially since increasing costs make it difficult for schools to operate one.

Culinary Arts instructor Louise Reuble noted that Fieri was an ardent supporter of the ProStart Program when he worked in California and it seemed natural that he would cover the national competition that took place in his home state.

Fraser said the state and national competitions help instill a passion for food and that passion is fostered by watching the ever-popular Food Network.

“It’s made these kids so much more wise about food,” Fraser said.

For the local team to compete in the national competition, they had to win state, which they did in March.

Reuble said the Oak Harbor team originally tied with Moses Lake last March, but finally won out in a Q and A session with the judges.

The cooking team prepared the same dish for both competitions — a seared sea scallop with a squid and bean salad and a passion fruit sabayon; a confit of beef tenderloin with a lobster beignet and chimichuri; and a banana cream pie with coconut foam.

The Oak Harbor culinary arts program has earned high honors at state competitions in recent years. Currently the class is preparing to defend its championship.

Reuble said there are 11 students participating in the class this year, which is fewer students than in previous years. She said some of the students who were interested in taking the elective class, which stretches over two periods, couldn’t because they were too busy meeting requirements needed to graduate.

The students are also dealing with changes to the state competition that takes place in March, especially with the management portion of the match. Reuble said the aspiring chefs have to form a business plan for a restaurant that is complete with portfolios, seating arrangement and a PowerPoint presentation. The students are also busy running their catering operation associated with the culinary arts program.

The state ProStart Invitational takes place March 6 and March 7, 2010 at South Seattle Community College. The public is invited to attend.

Reuble noted that a raucous group of supportive fans of the Oak Harbor team made the trip down to Olympia in March to cheer the team to victory. She’s hoping for the same kind of local backing next time.

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