I’ve been given an opportunity to mentor the Taft High School culinary class prepare for a competition in February called ProStart. A team of four students are given one hour to prepare two servings of an appetizer, entrée (protein, starch, vegetable), and a dessert. There are no stoves or ovens, only two burner butane stoves at each station. The students must demonstrate knife skills, sanitation, and proper food handling procedures. They must produce menus with food costing of the ingredients and retail pricing of each dish, and they must plate the dishes attractively and professionally. This year, the team must also fabricate (cut into eight pieces) a whole chicken prior to the commencement of the competition.
I met with the team last week for the first time and we discussed the potential menu. They had already decided they wanted to make Caponata which is a Sicilian salad made with eggplant. The recipe itself is relatively simple, but the flavors are very complex as the salad must be balanced between sour (agro) and sweet (dolce). The difficulty lies in the difference in taste when the salad is hot out of the pan and after it has cooled off and is served. It’s easy to over do it on either the sour of the sweet and through it off balance. I had to make this dish several times while I was in culinary school and it was very difficult to make it correctly. The judges of this competition apparently love complex and difficult dishes, so if they can make a decent Caponata they have a good chance of winning!
Since they wanted to start with a Sicilian dish, I suggested they do an entire Sicilian menu. After I returned home, I looked up some recipes and emailed them to the team leader. After meeting with them again this morning, they’ve decided on the following menu:
- Starter: Caponata
- Entrée: Sautéed tuna with tomato and oregano, couscous, and pureed peas with mint
- Dessert: Poached Asian pear filled with zabaione
The team made Caponata for the first time today, and unfortunately, I had to leave before it was finished. The recipe they were using only had sugar in it, while the more traditional way to make it is with raisins in addition to the sugar. I found a recipe after I returned home that had raisins and emailed it to Tony. They will be making that one next Friday to compare the two and decide which one they prefer.
I’m excited to be able to help coach these kids over the next few months into becoming a finely tuned machine for the competition. I’ll keep you updated as we progress.