NEW YORK—Twenty high-school seniors got a taste of the pressure, timing, and perfection required in five-star restaurants during a citywide cooking competition on Tuesday at the Institute of Culinary Education.
“It was exciting, nerve-wracking, but it feels rewarding; after we practiced for so long and to get here and do well is rewarding,” said Tianna Ottley, a senior at Food and Finance High School.
Within two hours, the students had to prepare from memory a two-course French meal: Hunter’s chicken with turned, sautéed potatoes, and crepes with pastry cream and chocolate sauce. Local executive chefs, such as Amy Eubanks of BLT Fish, and others involved with the industry judged the competition.
“I was incredibly impressed,” said Eubanks. “Honestly, in someone that young, I haven’t seen that kind of cooking in a very long time.”
Richard Grausman, founder and chairman of Careers through Culinary Arts Program, which held the competition, congratulated the students. “These dishes are gorgeous,” he said. “On the whole, this is the best competition I have ever seen. You all have a future in the industry.”
The field of students was whittled down from 60 in the February preliminaries. At stake are cash and scholarships to the top cooking schools in the nation—Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and Johnson and Wales University. Results will be revealed on April 5 at an awards breakfast.
At Food and Finance, the only city high school that specializes in culinary arts, students learn about baking and cooking, and intern at restaurants around the city in their senior year. The competition’s mimicry of a prestigious restaurant’s kitchen makes the experience crucial to seniors interested in a career in the field.
“It was very stressful,” said Luis Lopez, a senior at Food and Finance who interns at Amy’s Bread. “Here it is a lot more fast-paced. Very fast. At school we have time to do what we want, fix flavors if we don’t like them, but here it is go-go-go,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Lopez contemplated dropping out during the competition but stuck with it. Afterward, he said he felt relieved.
Michael Lynch, a chef instructor at the school, said competitions like these give students crucial funding for culinary schools. At CIA, tuition starts at about $30,000 per year, while Johnson and Wales currently costs $26,112.
Students at Food and Finance won scholarships worth $200,000 last year, including a four-year scholarship to Johnson and Wales for one student. Over the past four years, they’ve received $750,000.
At a similar competition at New York’s Monroe College, when one student won a full ride, the parent leaned back, arms spread out, and sighed deeply, recalled Lynch, re-enacting the scene. “I don’t have to worry about paying for college anymore,” the parent said.
Additional reporting by Nadia Ghattas