Wildcat culinary team scorches state competition

An exploding burner couldn’t stop the Oak Harbor High School culinary arts team from earning top honors in state competition. The team won the cooking contest for the second straight year.

The team’s menu earned first place in the 2008 Boyd Coffee ProStart Invitation held March 8 in Spokane.

Competition was heated as 25 culinary teams from throughout Washington were required to produce a three-course meal under deadline pressure. The Wildcats admit to having had the jitters as the day of competition began, a condition that wasn’t helped by several unexpected problems that arose in the frenzied effort to prepare their complex meal. A burner on their stove exploded, causing momentary alarm but no damage, and team members had to tweak their menu when they realized they had forgotten to bring along a couple of ingredients.

But they stuck together until the job was done. Alena Johnson said that her group’s teamwork and improvisational skills made the difference in the competition.

The judges were obviously blown away by the elaborate spread Oak Harbor’s students placed in front of them. The appetizer was an ahi tuna tartar and Dungeness crab tower with avocado, yellow beets, wonton crisp and mango yolk. The entree was lavender buttermilk sour-vide chicken breast with hubbard squash sautee, blue cheese corn fritter and grape salsa. Dessert was a bittersweet chocolate blood orange bar with basil ice cream and black pepper blueberry compote.

Once they finished their meal, participants had to wait 20 hours before the winners were announced, but for Oak Harbor the wait was well worth it. If there was a surprise, it came with another first-place win, in the “knife skills” category. The budding Wildcat chefs didn’t expect to win this portion of the competition. However, senior Tatyanna Thompson said the judges were looking at uniformity in the cuts each student made, a skill at which the Oak Harbor students excelled.

Scott Fraser, owner of the critically acclaimed Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in downtown Oak Harbor, volunteers to help the culinary students, and every year they meet his exacting expectations. He said the Wildcat team has placed in the top five in six of the last seven years.

Five members of the team participated in the hands-on portions of the competition while the remainder competed in the the restaurant management portion.

With the state title under their belts, the Oak Harbor team is preparing for the national event that takes place April 24-26 in San Diego.

To help pay for the trip, Frasers Gourmet Hideaway is holding a raffle for a $200 gift certificate. Tickets cost $5. For more informatioin call 279-1231.

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