On Friday, March 12, welcomed 200 high school students with dreams of becoming a Top Chef to the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia’s (HEFG) State Championships.
The competitors were made up of teams of high school juniors and seniors from schools across Georgia. Teams took part in either the ProStart Management or Culinary Arts competitions.
According to Kerri Crean, the program director for Gwinnett Tech’s Culinary Arts program, The ProStart Management competition was an “opening a restaurant” competition for the high school students. Crean said teams prepared case scenarios and PowerPoint presentations pitching their restaurant ideas. Teams were judged on menu, cost analysis, restaurant blueprints, design and marketing plans. Judges for the ProStart competition were four high-level executives in the food industry.
The Culinary Arts Competition featured teams of five from Georgia high schools. The teams had one hour to butcher a chicken, demonstrate five knife cuts and prepare a three-course meal. The hitch was that the teams had to do these things without access to electricity or running water. A panel of judges observed the teams working, and a group of 20 executive and master chefs judged the students’ dishes.
Competition teams are chosen by culinary instructors and chef mentors at the schools. Robert Schley, the instructor at Westover High School in Albany, Georgia, said he first asks for volunteers for his team, and then he picks his competitors based on scholarship and citizenship. Schley said his team won the regional competition in South Georgia, but they had to work really hard to prepare for the competition at Gwinnett Tech. “There are more components in this competition, and the judges are pickier,” he said.
All teams in the competitions recieved medals and scholarships. The first place winners from South Forsyth High School (their teams won both the Management and Culinary competitions, a first) also won a traveling trophy and will go on to represent the state of Georgia at the National Invitational in Kansas City in April. The first and second place teams will also get a chance to show their skills at the Taste of Atlanta in October. Other awards given to teams at the competition were Best Planning and Management, Best Knife Cuts, Best Sanitation and Best Culinary Fundamentals. Gas South's Chef's Choice Award was given to an individual studen the judges thought epitomized professionalism, hard work and competitive spirit.
Jaia Chambers, an 18-year-old Lawrenceville resident and competitor from Grayson High’s Technical Education Program, said there is much more to the competition than cooking the meal. She said they are judged on every detail of the meal, from sanitation to knife cuts to meal cost. "We have to give the menu prices too, so we have to be up on our math skills," she said. Grayson High's culinary team placed third in the competition this year. It was their first time placing.
Chambers said she’s been cooking since she was fourteen. She credits her mother with inspiring her to join Grayson’s Culinary program, but not in the way you might think. “I was tired of eating chicken the same way every night,” she said with a smile.