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Culinary competitions heat up Wauwatosa School District

April 1, 2014

Culinary competitions heated up the Wauwatosa School District last month, and students rose to the challenge.

Wauwatosa East High School earned second place in the ProStart Culinary Competition at the Wisconsin Restaurant Expo at the Wisconsin Center on March 11, and two Underwood Elementary students placed first and third in Sodexo's Future Chefs Challenge held at Wauwatosa West High School on March 19.

"What I think this does for kids is just really shows them that no matter what you want to go into in life, if you're going to do well, you have to be ready and have to work really, really hard to do well," said Barb Bruesewitz, foods instructor at East.

Quite a menu

East placed second out of 23 schools. Its culinary team, comprising Alec Lindroth, A.J. Piel, Madeline Nimmo and Cyrus Hoppe, crafted a menu inspired by State Fair foods.

For appetizers, Loaded Tator Tots were filled with bacon and cheddar cheese and topped with horseradish sour cream and spicy bacon ketchup. The entrée, Pork On A Stick, was a 6-ounce pork chop with homemade barbecue sauce, fresh corn polenta and apple coleslaw with poppy seed honey dressing. Dessert was a Cream Puff Trio of caramel apple, raspberry lemonade and banana split fillings, each served separately.

"There's a lot of preplanning and organization," Bruesewitz said. "There's no way you can go to a competition and work independently. You have to work with three other people. For teens that can be challenging."

Competitors had 60 minutes and two butane burners to complete their menu. No ovens; no electricity.

Students were judged on knife skills, product taste, product check-in (proper temperature and proper packaging), menu and recipe presentation, safety and sanitation, proper food handling, work station cleanliness, team appearance, work organization and cooperation, proper cooking procedures and proper use of equipment and tools.

Local chefs and restaurateurs served as judges.

"What judges expect at our level of a competition is incredible. They're looking for skills that college kids are performing," Bruesewitz said.

For earning second place, all four East teammates earned scholarships from local and national culinary schools. East will not move on to nationals.

"I think it's good for students to start young to see what the competition looks like, what other kids are doing," she said.

Finding a passion

Some students start very young.

Underwood Elementary fifth-grader Janessa Runyan, 10, was the first-place winner in the Sodexo challenge, and Anastazja Branski, fifth grade, took third place. More than 165 total school districts competed in the nationwide Future Chef Challenge. Six students competed in the Wauwatosa district. This year's theme was sandwiches.

Runyan prepared a Sante Fe Chicken Wrap topped with a zesty avocado spread, a mash of buttermilk, chopped scallion, lime, pepper, salt, cilantro, garlic and cumin. The ingredient that perfected the recipe was cumin, Runyan said.

"She's just blossoming," said Crystin Runyan, Janessa's mother. Crystin said Runyan grew up cooking with her grandfather, who is a chef, and would always watch cooking shows on television. Runyan's sister, Jalysa, 12, won second place in the Future Chef Challenge last year as an Underwood student. Runyan will advance to the national Future Chefs YouTube competition and expects to register for the 2014 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge by Michelle Obama.

For third-place winner, Branski, 11, the competition helped her work under pressure in a big kitchen and learn how to prepare larger amounts of food. She prepared a chicken avocado sandwich on flat bread, a recipe that taught her how to use the grill for the first time. She said she also enjoyed working with Runyan as a fellow Underwood student.

"It was fun being near somebody that I know who cooks like me and being in a bigger kitchen with kids doing the same thing," Branski said.

Her mother, Becky said, "I think it's a good experience for her to gain confidence and enjoy something. Everyone has to cook, you might as well do it well and enjoy it."

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