Dinner of champions

TMHS sends young chefs to compete in Anchorage

For 2 1/2 months, the team has trained for this weekend’s state competition. Working with the help of committed coaches, they developed a game plan and practiced their routine until they got their flow down pat. At their last practice before the big game, the team scored a buzzer-beating goal, and their schoolmates cheered them on.


But instead of wearing jerseys, this team is outfitted in chef’s whites. Instead of wielding hockey sticks, these competitors are armed with whisks and spatulas. They are Thunder Mountain High School’s competitive cooking team, and they’re about to kick some Bundt in Anchorage.

The team of five students, led by TMHS family and consumer sciences teacher Patrick Roach and Breeze In food director David Moorehead, is heading north for the Alaska ProStart Culinary Competition on Sunday. They’ll have 60 minutes to cook three courses with two tabletop burners. Eleven Alaska high school teams, including three from Southeast, are competing, Roach said. This year’s competition is Alaska ProStart’s biggest ever, according to the Alaska ProStart website.

On Tuesday, the team did a final run-through of its food prep, whipping up an appetizer, main course and dessert in front of other TMHS students during lunch. This is the closest the team will get to the pressure they’ll feel at the actual competition, Roach said. Each student had a task to accomplish during the hour they had to create the dishes.

“They make it look easy now,” Roach said as the students worked around each other behind a counter set up in the school commons. “But it’s taken a lot of work.”

Senior Corina Giamakidis is in charge of the entrée — a chicken roulade with roasted red bell peppers and spinach, resting on a bed of couscous and drizzled with morel mushroom cream sauce. Giamakidis completed every step of her process using a single burner, including creating a garnish with two thin potato slices and a basil leaf. When she fried the potato slices with the leaf between, the potatoes became transparent, silhouetting the leaf. This is a trick Moorehead taught them, Roach said.

Giamakidis comes from a culinary family, she said. Her parents own Donna’s Restaurant in the Mendenhall Valley. But even though cooking’s in her blood, it might not be in her future, she admitted.

“My parents wanted to give me Donna’s when I got older,” she said after the demonstration. “I’ve been around cooking all my life, so I want to try something else.”

But her heart was certainly in it Tuesday. Giamakidis finished the entrée with time to spare.

“We’re done with 15 minutes left, but we can’t plate the food,” she said to an onlooker.

The competition comes with strict rules, Roach said. The team must plate the food with three minutes left on the timer, he said. Points are deducted for going over the 60-minute limit.

With about 12 minutes left, team member Lacey Honsinger, a sophomore, popped the desserts — tiny pie-Bundt hybrids called apple charlottes — out of their pans.

“You got this,” said team alternate Justine Soriano, a senior, encouraging her as teammate Clark Bolanos, a junior, continued his task nearby.

“Nailed it,” said an onlooker to Honsinger as the second charlotte dropped perfectly onto the cooling rack.

Moorehead helped the students develop the menu they’ll serve the judges. About 50 chefs from across the state will judge the competition Sunday. The TMHS appetizer is an apple-fennel slaw with seared halibut and citrus vinaigrette. He said every recipe he developed with the students is a take on something he’s done as a trained chef.

“I sit down with them and try to get feedback from the students on what they’d like to cook or not like to cook,” Moorehead said. For example, senior Mark Uddipa, a second-year cooking team member, really wanted to use foam in one of the dishes. He ended up creating a vanilla-banana foam to go on top of the apple charlottes.

The team is mostly funded by the Juneau branch of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailer’s Association, Juneau CHARR President Jack Manning said. This is the third year a TMHS team will compete in Anchorage. The first year they went, they won state, Manning said.

“A lot of these other schools had been doing it a long time,” he said.

Roach said choosing the team wasn’t too difficult, even though he had about 60 eligible students to pick from. He chose these five based on their “natural skill and enthusiasm” and friendly personalities, as well as gung-ho attitudes, he said. It all became clear to him on sausage-making day.

“Meat was everywhere, but these guys were not grossed out at all,” Roach said. “They were like, ‘Yeehaw!’ I thought, ‘These are my guys, this is my team.’”

Like a well-oiled machine, the team plated everything right before the buzzer sounded Tuesday. It was their first time finishing before the clock ran out, Roach said.

“We did good,” Giamakidis said to the team as they raised their hands in the air.

“Yes! Right on the money,” Roach told them.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.


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