Culinary Arts students from The Chantilly Academy are sizzlin' hot — and eight of them are headed for the Skills USA state championship, April 8-9, at the Salem Civic Center near Roanoke.
The students competed in the District 14 (Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria), Feb. 5, at Stratford University in Falls Church, with several of them taking home medals in various categories.
"I'm really proud of the effort that each, individual kid put in," said Chef Clay Doubleday, Culinary Arts teacher. "They all stayed after school to practice, took on extra work, studied hard and cared about what they did."
Instead of having an "If it happens, it happens" attitude, he said, the students gave it their best because they really wanted to do well in the competition. And he's pleased that they "can compete so well, across the board, in all aspects of this industry."
Besides that, said Doubleday, "I'm really fond of my classes, this year. As a group, they're just fun to be with. When they go, I'm going to be sad."
Chantilly junior Ashley Saxon, 16, won a gold medal in the Food and Beverage Service competition. Students were given a menu to memorize and had to answer questions about it. They also set a table for four, served guests and took a test on table service and which wines go well with what foods.
"TABLE SERVICE was toughest because there's a lot of things you can't forget — especially which side to serve and clear from, and the order in which you take [customers'] orders," said Saxon.
"I liked competing against other people," she said. "I was surprised to get a gold medal because I was the youngest person in the competition and I can sometimes be clumsy and forgetful."
Winning a silver medal in that event was senior Rochelle Stevens, 17, of Chantilly High. But she didn't like memorizing the menu. "There were four or five soups, six or seven entrees and three desserts — and you had to know what was in them, too," she explained. "The judges were the customers and they said they were allergic to different [ingredients]."
Students also had to add the check in their heads and return the proper change to the customers. But Stevens said the competition was lots of fun and she, Saxon and another Chantilly Academy student, George Doctor, helped each other. "It makes it more enjoyable, so you're not all stressed out," she said.
"I'm a second-year [culinary] student here and, on Fridays, we serve teachers in the cafe [at Chantilly], so that's where I learned [serving]," said Stevens. "And we just had a midterm, and a lot of the table-service information was on it." She also likes cooking and plans on eventually attending a culinary school.
Doctor, 17, a South Lakes senior, won bronze in Food and Beverage Service. His favorite part was setting the table: "I don't like so many knives and forks on the table, but I like how neat the table looks."
One customer said he was allergic to raspberries and asked Doctor if they were on the fruit platter. He gave the right answer, but then, said Doctor, "I forgot to tell him the sorbet was raspberry."
He took Culinary Arts at the Academy because his home-ec teacher recommended it and said "it could be a good experience" for him. And it has, he said, because "I like cooking and, this way, I get to enhance my abilities. I especially like to make desserts and entrees."
A young man of many talents, Doctor will attend Johnson & Wales in Miami and hopes to possibly have his own cooking show or be an actor or musician. He said taking meal orders from teachers in the cafe readied him for the competition so he knew "what to do and say."
Senior Hana Bignell, 17, whose base school is Fairfax High, won gold in cooking. "They gave us a packet of recipes, ingredients and three hours and said, 'Make it,'" she said. Bignell vied against 11 students from other academies.
SHE HAD to make a Chef's Choice salad with ranch dressing, Chicken Velouté (with chicken stock and a roux), green beans and roasted red bliss potatoes. But it was easy for her. "We practice a lot harder things in class," she said.
Bignell said it's difficult to know exactly what the judges want because "every judge looks for something different." But she enjoyed seeing how the other schools were doing, compared to The Chantilly Academy. She plans a career in culinary arts and, after graduation, will attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York.
Sarah Monroe, a junior, hails from Woodson High and won bronze in cooking. It's her first year in the program and the competition so, she said, "I was very nervous, but it's a great experience — nothing else compares to it."
She didn't think she could handle the chicken sauce because she'd never made anything like it before, but hers turned out fine. And she loved the potato recipe: "You marinated them a half hour in garlic, olive oil and spices and roasted them."
Monroe, 16, said the event helped her learn good timing. And, she said, "It's great preparation for future jobs, and it helps with networking — meeting other chefs. I'm hoping to go to the CIA or Johnson & Wales and eventually become a food critic."
Winning a gold medal in Commercial Baking was Caroline Dacko, 17, an Oakton High senior. She made biscuits and blueberry muffins, made her own frosting and then frosted a cake. "There was nothing complicated," she said. "But because we had so much time — three hours — we did it at our leisure and then struggled at the end to finish."
She especially likes frosting cakes and made a buttercream frosting for her entry, which was judged on taste and appearance. Said Dacko: "I did a shell design on the bottom of the cake and made little flowers on the top."
"I LOVED participating," she said. "It gives you a chance to see how well you can do, and it's a lot of fun." She intends to go to the CIA and work in a restaurant or on a cruise ship.
Vanessa Bush, 18, a Westfield High senior, won a silver medal in Commercial Baking. "I was kind of rushed decorating the cake, so it was a little stressful," she said. "But the judges kept us entertained — some even sang to us." She decorated her cake with a thick border of tiny curls on the bottom and rosettes on top.
She, too, enjoyed herself, and felt well-prepared. "We'd done our own, in-house competition [at the Academy]," she explained. "And in class, [Chef Doubleday] showed us the proper technique for splitting the cake in half and frosting it without crumbs by spreading a thick layer on the cake."
Bush hopes to attend the CIA in New York and get a bachelor's in Baking and Pastry Management because "I'd really like to have my own bakery someday. Chocolate is my passion, and I'd love to do that, too."
Westfield senior Kelli Williams, 17, won bronze in Commercial Baking. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could get through it, so I didn't expect to do as well," she said. "But it was pretty fun. It was a relaxed environment."
She especially liked making the buttermilk biscuits and says the secret is not kneading them too much: "Just roll them out so they'll be nice and fluffy."
Already working in the field, Williams is a wedding-cake consultant in a Herndon bakery and does a couple weddings per weekend. "I'm thinking of going into wedding-cake production or wedding planning," she said. "I'm going to Johnson & Wales in Denver in September."
Junior Jon Tate, 16, a South Lakes junior, won a silver medal in Food Preparation. "We had to make gazpacho, and they were looking at how you washed and cut the food, cleaned the area and how neat your [workspace] was," he said. Students also made a Chef's Choice salad with a white-wine vinaigrette, plus a club sandwich.
"THE HARDEST part was remembering what knife cuts should look like and making sure each [vegetable piece] was consistent in size," explained Tate. He said the best part was just competing: "It'll look good on a culinary-school application. And since I'm a first-year student, this is practice for next year."
He'd love to be a chef someday. "I have a dream of owning my own restaurant — hopefully, in Sydney, Australia," he said. "I like to be creative and spontaneous with cooking at home, especially main dishes." Both shocked and delighted to win a medal, Tate said there was lots of anticipation before students found out how they did because "we had to wait a week to learn the results."