Practicing with Precision Ralston High School Culinary Teams Prepare For Competition

The culinary lab at Ralston High School is bustling.

Across four kitchens, ten students are chopping, mixing, sautéing, and plating as their teacher and coach, Mrs. Christi Krist looks on.

Mrs. Krist checks one team's work midway through a January after-school practice session.

“I can’t tell you how much I love this class and these kids. I love watching their progression. They’re better today than they were two practices ago. Some students are nervous to sign up but we meet them where they are and get them to the finish," Krist said as she took a break from one after-school session in January.

Each of the ten students enrolled in Culinary II at Ralston High School is headed for the 14th Annual Institute for Culinary Arts - High School Culinary Invitational at Metropolitan Community College. The day-long event draws teams from across the area.

Judges look on as teams compete at a previous MCC Culinary Competition

From unpacking to plating, judges watch for a variety of things from each team. That includes proof of their preparation before the event, knife skills as competitors get to work, how they keep the work station clean and safe, communication with teammates, whether students use words and phrases professional chefs do, and of course - the final product.

Some students in Culinary II have repeated the class for another chance to learn and join a team, like Preston Clapp. After completing a foods class his Freshman year and Culinary I in 10th-grade, Clapp has enthusiastically taken Culinary II both his Junior and Senior year.

Senior Preston Clapp works in the kitchen.
"I just like food," Clapp said, "so I wanted to know how to make food and eat good food."

After learning how to cook in his grandmother's kitchen, Preston Clapp knew he wanted to pursue a culinary career. "One reason I know I want to be a chef is because I don't want to sit at work all day," he explained, adding that the lessons in Culinary II not only improve his skills but teach a lot about how professional kitchens operate.

Whatever career these competitors choose, Krist explains that skills learned in her lab will easily translate. "Teamwork, communication, planning, math, finance, creativity. They all transfer to any professional setting.”

For these groups, teamwork is critical. Though each student takes the lead on a certain portion of the meal, they must jump in and help each other to succeed. Whether it's using down time in the dessert recipe to help with the protein or brainstorming solutions to an unexpected obstacle, it's a joint effort.

Krist is passionate about the spark these experiences light in students.

“They may be tardy to other classes but they’re here early and they’re already getting started when I arrive. That’s what I love about it. This is where they want to be."

That's proven in the hours each student invests outside Ralston High Schools' regular schedule. Beyond the class time dedicated to recipe research, planning, and practice, several after-school sessions will help students confidently compete at MCC.

The 14th Annual ICA High School Culinary Invitational at Metropolitan Community College will be Friday, February 22nd, 2019.

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