When I was approached by Natalie Elkind of Heying & Associates, the agency behind promoting the first ever North County culinary arts competition for high school students, I jumped at the opportunity. What a perfect chance to see how the Food Network generation has responded to the culinary arts and chefs elevated to the forefront of popular culture. On top of that, San Dieguito Academy, located in Encinitas was a part of the competition and their team agreed to join me prior to the completion as guests on Lick the Plate Radio.
The competition was put on by the San Diego County Office of Education’s Regional Occupational Program (ROP). ROP is a career preparation program for high school students that supports vocational and career readiness courses within 15 different career pathways, including Culinary Arts. The mission of the San Diego County Career Technical Education and Regional Occupational Program is to prepare all students to be college and career ready. This mission is accomplished by providing students with high quality and relevant career technical education and support services, which develop job specific skills, knowledge and attitudes. Culinary Arts courses are part of the Hospitality/Tourism/Recreation industry sector and are one of the most popular CTE/ROP programs, producing some of California’s most promising teen chefs. Due to financial reasons and also clamp downs on college admissions, college is not always an option that is available to student’s right out of high school. By training students for the workforce, CTE/ROP gives students another option if attending a four year university is not an option that is immediately available to them.
I got a head start on the competition by spending some time with the San Dieguito Academy team as they were fine tuning their creamy pumpkin soup with cran apple relish served with cranberry sage scones. The soup was served in carved out pumpkins with dried pumpkin seeds as a garnish. Their instructor at SDA, Scott Huntley had them in competition form by the time I paid them a visit. It was fun interviewing them individually for the radio show, discovering their favorite chefs and their aspirations after graduation next June. While none of them had immediate plans to enter the culinary world, they all shared a passion for cooking and were enjoying every minute spent honing their skills and the camaraderie of the Soup Bowl competition.
The competition took place on November 27 at Vista High School, where a new, state-of-the-art commercial kitchen was recently completed. The schools competing included Vista, Fallbrook, Mission Hills, and SDA. The judge’s panel consisted of Chris Ross from the UT, Chef Instructor Michael Zonfrilli from the Art Institute, Ann Richardson from Dream Dinners, Richard Hansen from Sysco, and me.
Every soup we tasted was very good but the best of them all and the Soup Bowl winner was the chicken tortilla soup from the Fallbrook team led by program director Larry Koch. This soup was restaurant quality and their ability to score high points in all of the areas they were judged on gave them a slight edge over the competition. I could tell by the way they handled themselves in the kitchen that the Fallbrook team had some future culinary stars. The team from SDA had a great showing and the presentation of their soup in the pumpkins with the scones really impressed the judges table.
Both Natalie Elkind and Manuel Zapata, the Coordinator of Regional Occupational Program for SDUHSD did an amazing job helping to organize this Top Chef style competition. “On a personal level, I am just very proud of the outstanding work our CTE/ROP teachers are doing in my district,” said Manuel Zapata. He added, “The teacher's passion for our CTE/ROP programs and their involvement in this competition is just one example of how CTE/ROP continues to provide a bright light in the education of High School students. Our Culinary Arts students will never forget the experience gained during the soup bowl competition.” I would second that and would like to thank both Natalie and Manuel for inviting me to be a part of this fun and rewarding event.
To listen to the interviews with the SDA culinary team go to www.kprifm.com click on Programs, then Lick the Plate.