The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 17, 2013

Franklin Tech students show off skills in 'Master Chef' contest

JOPLIN, Mo. — The menu consisted of a hamburger patty dressed with ranch and stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled chicken and broccoli on a stick, and bites of red velvet funnel cake drizzled with a cream cheese glaze.

And it stuck with the judges, who named its creators, a team of local high school students, Master Chef champions.

Students from Franklin Technology Center in the culinary arts class recently competed in a Master Chef competition, modeled and named after the reality television cooking show of the same name, starring British chef Gordon Ramsay. They formed 13 teams of four to five students each, facing each other in two preliminary rounds before the two surviving teams squared off for a final round.

Winners in the morning session -- and creators of the menu above -- were Hollis Cady, Kelsey Hayes, Nicole Wickman, Kaylee Tressler and Kaitlyn Rooney. The winning team of the afternoon session included Zachary Cook, Catherine Griffith, Martin Santillan and Michelle Sherrick.

During the final round, teams had to make "fair food," which was to include something grilled, something on a stick and something sweet, said Jennifer Barksdale, the class's instructor. They were judged by a panel of principals, secretaries and counselors from Franklin Tech.

Barksdale said the competition also included a television component. Camera crews from JET-14, a Joplin High School production, taped the final rounds and plan to air a "Master Chef" episode on their television channel, she said.

"Not only did the kids have to concentrate on what they were cooking, but they also had to engage the camera crew," Barksdale said. "So it was just like you see on some of the big competition shows you see on TV."

Barksdale said the contest was a first for Franklin Tech. It was well received, she said, and taught students not only how to put their cooking skills to use, but also how to work as a team and use their time well in the kitchen.

The Globe caught up with the winning team from the morning session, who wowed the judges with their grilled cheese and hamburger mashup, chicken and broccoli, and red velvet funnel cake.

They said they had about a day to plan their menu and about an hour and 15 minutes during the competition to execute it.

But they quickly discovered they were on their own during the contest, forced to rely on their own knowledge and creativity when things didn't go right. That's how they ended up with bites of funnel cake, they said. Their original menu included whole funnel cakes, but when their cakes ended up resembling strips, they decided to cut them into bite-sized pieces and rename them, they said.

"We're used to asking our teachers what to do to make it better, and we weren't allowed," Tressler said.

They learned not to underestimate the amount of stress that can be involved when cooking on a time limit, particularly if there are others watching. Tressler and Wickman said they are sure that JET-14 camera crews captured them bickering about leaving the hamburger patties unattended on the grill, a sparring they blame on the pressures of the contest.

They also unanimously said the most important thing they learned during the competition had nothing to do with a particular cooking skill -- It was the power of teamwork.

"If you are going to work in a restaurant, you're going to have waiters, you're going to have cooks, you're going to have dishwashers," Tressler said. "You're going to have to work together to even have a restaurant."

Beyond the competition, the students said they have grown as chefs and continue to become better each day. They all signed up for the class, which draws students from Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Sarcoxie and Diamond, because they enjoy cooking.

"I like food a lot, and I've always liked cooking a lot," said Cady, who said he doesn't feel out of place despite being one of the few male students in the class.

Their most valuable piece of advice and tips for future chefs?

For Tressler, it's learning how to use a knife correctly.

"There's a certain way you have to hold the knife and hold your fingers so you don't cut your fingers off," she said.

Wickman said her most important tip is to measure everything correctly when baking.

"It has to be perfect," she said. "It has to be really precise."

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