A judge checks the Oak Harbor culinary arts team for clean and sanitary hands at the ProStart National Invitational, which was held April 28-30 in Charleston, S.C. Oak Harbor placed 16th out of 48 teams. Photo courtesy Mary Arthur

Oak Harbor culinary students place 16th at nationals

Mary Arthur is in awe of the generosity and support she sees from the Oak Harbor community year after year.

Arthur’s state champion culinary arts team from Oak Harbor High School returned Monday from a four-night trip to Charleston, S.C.

Proud of Oak Harbor’s 16th place finish out of 48 teams from across the U.S. and abroad at the National ProStart Invitational, Arthur said the experience for her five students was immeasurable.

Community support made the trip possible, she said.

“This community is absolutely outstanding,” said Arthur, Oak Harbor High School’s chef and culinary arts advisor. “And not just this team, but robotics and DECA and Navy Junior ROTC. Across the board, the opportunities the students have are absolutely amazing and that’s because of this community.”

Scott Fraser, owner and chef of Oak Harbor’s Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, has mentored the program, helping send eight culinary teams to the national event in 12 years.

He and some of his staff have accompanied the team to nationals. His restaurant’s annual fundraising dinner helps cover the team’s travel expenses.

The students also raise money through another dinner. Their parents held an online auction and received donations from local businesses and individuals.

Arthur estimated it cost about $15,000 to send a team to nationals, including the cost to prepare the courses during practices.

Arthur said the team practiced its routine about 30 times to prepare for the state and national competitions.

Seniors Madison Gaber and Sydney Dickinson and juniors Donovan McCulley, Abby Noack and Garrett Karney made up this year’s team. The students attend the school’s culinary arts class but their focus since January has been on mastering the skills used to make three courses during competitions.

“They were practicing knife skills at home,” Arthur said.

The team prepared an appetizer of sauteed diver scallops topped with smoked curry roasted cauliflower, basil aioli and tamarfind caramel; a main entree of masala braised lamb shoulder Indian spiced chops with potato and pea samosa; and a dessert of dark chocolate panna cotta with rum cremeux.

The students got one hour to prepare the three courses with judges watching every move. The team was allowed to use only two butane burners to cook. No electricity was allowed.

Even in their hotel rooms before the competition, the students continued to practice their knife skills.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the job they did and how they represented the school,” Arthur said.

At least one parent accompanied each student on the trip. Gaber’s grandparents drove up from Florida.

One of the parents was tasked with running around Charleston to try to locate restaurant-grade 40 percent cream, which had burst in flight, Arthur said.

Aside from the competition, the students got to soak in some of the sights, including the national monument at Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started in 1861. The weather was beautiful, Arthur said.

“There’s so much history back there, and the architecture and cobblestone streets and carriage rides” she said. “It was a pretty neat opportunity for them to be able to experience that.”