Future chefs feel the heat in high school cooking competition

High school culinary competition at Fox Valley Technical College
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 10:22 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 9:52 AM CDT
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correction: Corrects Alex Vernon's name and title with the Wisconsin Restaurant Association

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. (WBAY) - Things are heating up in the kitchen at Fox Valley Technical College, where future chefs are feeling the heat in a culinary competition.

Kimberly High School junior Liam Sullivan has big culinary dreams. “An executive chef in a big city, preferably.”

Being in the kitchen just comes naturally to him.

“I learned to make eggs when I was 4. I’ve been cooking my entire life. Baking longer than I can remember,” he said.

He put his skills to the test with his teammates at the Wisconsin ProStart Invitational High School Culinary and Management Competition.

“We’ve been working on figuring it out for the last 5 or 6 months, and the appetizer was finalized about a month-and-a-half ago, and dessert was finalized months ago,” Liam said of the preparations.

The culinary competition consists of teams of 4 students from across the state preparing an appetizer, entrée and dessert in 60 minutes with just two Bunsen burners. Teams also present a restaurant proposal to a panel of judges in hopes of winning the management category.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for students. It’s kind of like our state’s varsity competition for culinary and hospitality,” Alex Vernon, Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s ProStart manager, said.

The students began the process in the fall, working with mentors to put together their menu and practicing the food preparation process.

“They’ve been practicing this over lunch hours, after school, before school, outside of the school day,” Vernon said.

But there’s nothing like game day.

“It’s definitely a lot different, because it’s just a bigger atmosphere and obviously you’re competing alongside other teams at that point, which you wouldn’t have in the classroom,” Olivia Burdette, from Pulaski High School, said. Her school placed first in the management competition.

Students are learning all about the culinary arts in preparation for the big day, but they’re also learning important life skills.

“So the skills learned at this competition go far beyond just the key culinary and hospitality skills. It’s also communication, teamwork, conflict resolution,” Vernon said.

Westosha High School won first place in the Overall Culinary competition, followed by Pulaski and Lake Geneva’s Badger High School. Pulaski took top prize in Overall Management, followed by Franklin High School and Badger High School.

The first-place teams will represent Wisconsin at ProStart’s national competition in Washington, D.C.