EHS student cooks rule the range
As Eudora High School junior Jesse Murphy shows visitors around his second high school, Millcreek Center in Olathe, pride beams off his face. When giving a tour of the culinary arts area, Murphy points out new gadgets, like a set of knives the students are supposed to save for a cooking competition but have already put to use.
But Murphy and Eudora High School senior Jenny Tyree have another reason to be proud: Both were part of a Millcreek culinary arts team that placed first in a state competition. In May they will travel to Denver to compete against 29 other teams in national competition.
Millcreek Center is a technical school where students attend classes half-days in addition to a half day of classes at their regular high schools or home schooling.
"There were a few mess-ups," Murphy said of the event. "We flowed so well once we got in there."
Although the team of Murphy, Tyree and three other Millcreek students out-performed the other cooks at Johnson County Community College in December, earning them about $13,000 in scholarship money, the team came a half point away from earning a gold medal.
Still, Tyree proudly shows the silver medal each team member received. Like traditional award medals, the silver disk is strung from a red, white and blue ribbon, but it isn't embossed with laurel wreaths or other traditional victory symbols. Instead, the images of food items appear on this medal.
The awards ceremony was a moment of pride for Murphy's mother, too. As the winners were announced in ascending order, Murphy said his mother kept squeezing his hand tighter in anticipation. Having her at the ceremony was a special experience for him because "she can't be at the Center when I do all this great stuff," he said.
She does take advantage of his emerging skills by having him cook at home, however.
"She calls it 'practice,'" Murphy said.
During the competition, judges watched the cooks to see not only how they cut carrots and peeled pears, but also how they handled hygiene and how the cooks communicated.
Tyree attributed the team's success to making even cuts on the vegetables and preparing a "college-level meal."
"It took lots of practice," she said, adding the team made the meal after school, beyond regular culinary classes.
The team will get cooking again soon in preparation for nationals.
"A JCCC culinary arts teacher is going to come and teach us and tell us what we need to make our stuff look better," Tyree said.
The team kept a notebook of information about their creations for the competition, including photographs of the food. Although a soft, cooked pear placed in a shallow pool of raspberry sauce with a spider web design of white yogurt strung through it might look like something from Martha Stewart Living. To Murphy's trained eye the display isn't up to par: The strips of carrots aren't lying the same direction.
The judges notice that type of detail including proper placement of food in the refrigerator.
"I didn't watch them compete," said teacher Jason Gray, adding he was too nervous.
Gray divides classroom time between bookwork in a traditional classroom, where cookbooks line the bookshelves, and the kitchen area, where students prepare food, some of which they sell to their Millcreek classmates for breakfast and lunch.
"Our goal is to get them in their junior year and give them an assessment of the industry," Gray said. "It's not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it."
Tyree made that point when talking about a glitch during their competition.
"We forgot a lid," she said. "We had to substitute aluminum foil. It looked a bit weird, but you have to come up with something."
The students also had to accommodate the new kitchen, Tyree said, which included a gas stove rather than the electric units at Millcreek. Moreover, she said, in competition they could only use one unit, so one oven temperature had to hold up for two dishes.
"When I was making the crackers we had to watch them so they wouldn't burn," she said.
When the team travels to Denver in May, Gray said they will be responsible for taking their own supplies, which means nearly everything but the kitchen sink literally.
To accommodate all the supplies, Tyree said the team planned to take two vans for a good reason.
"You can't fly with knives on an airplane," she said, laughing.
Before going into the kitchen area to prepare pizzas, Tyree and Murphy slip into white, double-breasted chefs uniforms. They look something like the chefs on the Discovery Channel's "Great Chefs" series and the Food Network shows Murphy watches religiously after school.
"It still feels a little strange," he said, buttoning up the white jacket. "We look like professionals."