MOSES LAKE — Whoever said cooking contests were easy was wrong.
The kitchen at Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center (CB Tech) was rocking, stoves full – and in all the excitement a misplaced pan handle. Alex Billett, in the middle of preparing pan-seared chicken with mushrooms, rice pilaf and glazed carrots, suffered a minor burn on his hand.
“I waited until the competition was over before I said anything,” Alex said. He had an entree to plate.
Alas, Noe Madrigal burned his carrots. His chicken looked perfect, but he mistimed the carrots.
“I’ve got next year, though,” Noe said. “This was, like, my first competition ever.”
As CB Tech instructor Steve Armstrong said, those weren’t burned carrots, those were blackened carrots. And upscale restaurants charge double for them.
Alex, Wenatchee, and Noe, Yakima, were among 20 students in the regional round of Skills USA cooking competition Friday morning. Contestants came from CB Tech, Moses Lake High School, Wenatchee Valley Technical Skills Center and Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center.
Every contestant made the same dish with the same basic ingredients. Every contestant was watched closely by a panel of judges.
Skills USA competition focuses on the dish, but also on the way contestants handle a knife, and safety and sanitation habits. Knife skills and good safety and sanitation techniques are what restaurants are looking for when they hire a cook, CB Tech culinary instructor Susie Moberg said.
When it came to the actual cooking, the goal was to produce a dish where each component complimented the others. “You want them to work together, not stand alone,” Moberg said.
Although the basic ingredients are the same, the contestants put their own stamp on the recipe through their choices in spices and preparation. O’Ryan Hancock, Yakima, noticed a lot of cooks adding lemon to their dishes, so he avoided lemon. “Also, I just didn’t want to do lemon.”
He was satisfied with his entry – most of it. “It was absolutely perfect, except for that chicken.” The chicken was, unfortunately, a little overdone, or so O’Ryan thought.
Jon Judah Vrieling noticed that each cook took a different approach. He opted for Italian-style seasoning. “I think I did well,” he said. “Not the best, not the worst.”
“I had to change my plan at the last minute,” said Kaitlyn Logue, Moses Lake. Kaitlyn is the defending state champion and experienced in competition. “I thought I could find a loophole,” she said, but it wasn’t there. She was forced to use a recipe she’d never tried before. She was confident regardless. “I think I did OK.”
Omar Mendez, Wenatchee, said he follows his instincts, and his instincts led him in a totally different direction. “I think it looks really cool,” he said of his entree, which he turned into a chicken roll.
“There were some amazing contestants today,” Jon said. The top six contestants advanced to state competition, scheduled for Yakima.
Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.