The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 26, 2014

FTC students battle for Master Chef title in annual culinary competition

— As the last seconds ticked away, there was a rush in the kitchen to get food on the plates.

But the final products were eye-catching and perhaps restaurant-worthy: Half a waffle with a side of brightly colored mixed berries. A slice of cake dripping with frosting and dusted with powdered sugar. A sizable chunk of steaming fried chicken.

Students in the culinary arts program at Franklin Technology Center were immersed Wednesday in the second day of their annual Master Chef Competition. Named after the reality television show, for which Gordon Ramsay is the host on the Fox network, Franklin Tech’s competition featured teams of students who prepared three dishes in one hour for a panel of judges.

Kayla Lagrassa’s team created three dishes based on the cuisine of South Dakota: a German-inspired fleischkuechle, a type of meat dumpling; an American Indian taco; and a coffee cake with red frosting. Lagrassa, a junior at Webb City High School, took it as a good sign that the judges didn’t want to relinquish their plates of coffee cake, even after their judging responsibilities were completed.

“I think we did really good because they wanted to keep our food,” she said.

Lagrassa said her team endured some “minor freak-outs” in attempting to finish the dishes in the allotted hour. But cooking in general is a soothing activity, she said.

“I really like cooking; it’s what I like to do to relieve stress,” she said. “It keeps me calm, and if I have a lot on my mind, I like to lose myself in the art of cooking.”

Kandace Richards, Lagrassa’s teammate and a senior at Sarcoxie High School, said figuring out how to work as a team was the biggest difficulty of the competition.

“It was a little bit of a challenge, but we made it through with no issues,” she said. “We all worked together and got done.”

Collin Shipley, a senior at Joplin High School, competed with his team in the first round on Tuesday. His team fixed three dishes based on the cuisine of Arizona: a mixed-berry cobbler, a Mexican-style corn dish and a sirloin steak.

“I think our corn cooked a little bit longer than it needed to, but our steak turned out well,” he said.

Shipley said participating in the contest allowed him to cook for others under pressure of a deadline, which is something he hadn’t yet done, and also test his culinary skills in the kitchen. The skills he has picked up since enrolling in the class include how to cut food in an appropriate way so it cooks better and how to create different sauces, he said.

Austin Alves, Shipley’s teammate and a senior at Webb City High School, agreed that something wasn’t quite right about the team’s corn dish. He said that in addition to possibly overcooking it, the addition of the cheese before baking it — instead of after — most likely doomed it.

But that didn’t seem to matter to Alves, who said he enrolled in the culinary arts program because he loves to eat and he has a sweet tooth.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I would do it all over again if I could, even though we didn’t win.”

Judges were chef Jason Wike, of the Red Onion restaurants; chef Jason Miller, of Instant Karma and the Eagle Drive-In; Dixie Rockers, a family and consumer science instructor; and Susan Mathes, a career path coordinator with the Joplin School District.

Miller, who offered tips, advice and constructive criticism to students throughout the competition, said he enjoyed watching the future chefs work in the kitchen.

“There are kids in this program who are really talented, and you can tell they have what it takes to get into the business,” he said. “I think any time these kids make something from scratch, it’s impressive. We saw a girl make a pie crust yesterday (Tuesday), and it was beautiful and perfect and delicious.”


THE MASTER CHEF COMPETITION will resume today, when the winning teams from Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s culinary arts classes will face off for the Master Chef title and trophy. Karen Essley, culinary arts instructor, said the competition teaches students how to work in a team, how to solve problems, how to use or improve their presentation skills, and how to put their newly acquired technical skills to good use in the kitchen.

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