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Pressure cooking
Three White County students learn the basics of culinary competition
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White County High School seniors Allyson Burkett, Ashley Allen and Carolyn Cook will compete in a statewide culinary competition held April 17-19 in Athens. - photo by Tom Reed

CLEVELAND - Three White County High School seniors are preparing to compete - for the first time - in a statewide culinary competition.

The culinary competition, through the Family Career and Community Leaders of America, is the final stop for Ashley Allen, Allyson Burkett and Carolyn Cook after winning the Region Three competition in March.

"We were competing against schools that the last two years were the state winners," said Barbara Pletsch, the FCCLA adviser and Culinary Arts teacher at White County High. "So it's a hard region to win. So this is the first year that we have had anyone win in the culinary (division) and they did awesome.

"(FCCLA) is a national organization that used to be FHA. They changed the name back in the 1990s, and it is the career tech student organization for family consumer sciences."

The mission of the group is to promote leadership skills through family and consumer sciences, with a focus on the roles of family members, wage earners and community leaders, according to its Web site.

The regional competition was held at Madison County High School in Danielsville and the state competition will be April 17-19 in Athens.

"No one is allowed to watch the competition," Pletsch said. "But we did find out that at the state meeting, you do not know what you are cooking until you walk in. They send you an equipment list ... and that is what we've been putting together today.

"Much of the competition is based on safety and sanitation. It doesn't make any difference how good the food looks or how great it tastes if it makes you sick."

Pletsch added that the students know they have done a good job if the three judges will eat the dishes.

"If you are at the competition and the judges refuse to taste it then you know you have bombed on the safety and sanitation," she said.

Burkett said the three really focused on safety and sanitation throughout the competition.

"We cleaned up after ourselves as we finished something," she said. "If we had trash we immediately threw it away; we picked up after each other.

"If you are handling food that you don't cook - that is ready to eat like the salsa or the fruit or the salad - you
always have to wear gloves because you never know what is on your hands ... if you pick something up you have to wash your hands and gloves again."

The safety and sanitation portion of the competition also includes other aspects besides just food handling.

"Safety and sanitation also has to do with the appropriate temperatures, correct knife cuts, knife skills, making sure you keep your area clean," Cook said. For the regional competition, Allen made Fruit and Banana Cream Napoleon, Burkett whipped up the Black Bean and Corn Salsa and Cook created an Antipasto dish.

Burkett said the Fruit and Banana Cream Napoleon became one of her favorites after the competition.

"It's basically just strawberries, green and red grapes and bananas and yogurt and it's all mixed together," she said. "I made the black bean and corn salsa, that is really all it was, was black beans and corn, tomatoes and peppers."

Added Cook, "I made the antipasto - it was like a salad with cauliflowers and broccoli and carrots and zucchini and onions and ham and turkey. But I forgot the ham and turkey."

Cook, also the president of FCCLA, is a cook that can really just glance at a recipe and make sense of it all, Pletsch said. Allen is the baker of the bunch and Burkett is the sanitation queen.

One of Cook's favorite recipes to serve up to friends and family is Chicken Piccata.

"I love chicken and I love anything Italian," she said. "Normally you make it with white wine but being in high school we are not allowed to use wine so we have to use wine substitutes like lemon juice and chicken broth."

Allen has been tweaking a Paula Deen recipe called Orange Brownies into her own dessert specialty.

"The cake tastes like oranges and on top is the cream cheese (icing) ... which I liked more than the glaze," she said.

But before the three student chefs head to the FCCLA state competition there will be some preparation.

"We have to get our equipment list of course," Cook said. "Whenever we went to regions we were all really nervous and we just looked at each other and said we would pretend we were all at our kitchens back home."

Burkett said they just have to remember that the competition is still just for fun.

"During the competition everyone was so tense and so concentrated," she said. "We were sitting there just laughing and having a good time, I was cracking jokes the whole time."

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