A high school rodeo roper, a flutist and three softball players have cooked their way to a state title and are heading to a national culinary competition.
The student chefs will represent Greenville High School, the smallest school to participate in the California ProStart Cup held last month in Pomona. They will likely be among the smallest schools this weekend at the National ProStart Invitational in Charleston, S.C., said Judy Dolphin, Greenville’s culinary teacher and the team’s volunteer coach.
The five chefs from the school with 75 students, seventh through 12th grades, have earned their honors by devoting time after school and on weekends to hone skills that range from delicate julienne slicing to pasta from scratch to stellar food presentations.
“You don’t have to be the biggest to be the best. It’s all about heart,” said Kevin Goss, Plumas County supervisor representing Greenville and Indian Valley.
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The Greenville team swept the state competition in the culinary category with an Italian-inspired menu of ricotta cheese and arugula-filled ravioli, and acqua pazza, whitefish poached in a tomato and pepper broth. They topped off the three-course meal with burdino, a rich, sweet pudding with fresh berries and chocolate-lattice garnish.
Judges in Pomona praised the dessert for its simplicity and taste, giving it one of the highest marks ever seen in state competition, said Sean Conry, a Plumas County chef who coaches several student culinary teams and has been involved in the state competition for 15 years.
The rural ranching and logging community has embraced the students’ success with the parental pride of an enormous blended family. Monetary donations of more than $2,500 will help pay for clothing, meals in South Carolina and equipment upgrades, Dolphin said. The local chapter of Pheasants Forever raised $500 so each student will have $100 in spending money on the six-day trip.
School officials even postponed the spring prom, allowing the five culinary-team members to participate.
All the attention seems to have sharpened the young chefs’ focus on cooking. Just before their last practice session they were a picture of relaxed confidence, kibitzing with the affectionate sass of kids who have known one another most of their lives. Each had a story about joining the team and committing to four months of practice at least thrice weekly.
“Ms. Dolphin bribed me with sushi,” said Tanner Meigs, a senior heading to Cuesta College whose true passion is team roping, boys’ cutting and other rodeo events.
“It looks good on a scholarship application,” said Kelsey Heard, a junior class officer and softball player.
Once they started the one-hour timed cooking session, the student chefs went about their preparations, constantly communicating while maneuvering hot pans and sharp knives in a small space. McIntosh called out time checks and Conry offered suggestions on slicing and utensil organization.
After finishing with two minutes to spare, the culinary team moved their gourmet dishes to a large table and sat down to eat like the teenagers they are.
The voluntary after-school culinary program is about far more than food, Dolphin said. For kids who don’t participate in sports, it’s an opportunity to develop competitive skills in the hospitality industry, the nation’s No. 1 employer. The competition offers exposure to the world, “a little background for how to travel, how to act when they leave Indian Valley,” she said.
Sidney-Lyn McIntosh, a college-bound senior and one of two returning team members, said she is more nervous about the airplane flight than the national competition.
Dolphin, a lifelong resident of Indian Valley and a Greenville High School graduate, believes the culinary program offers hope to the entire community, where the traditional economic mainstays of logging and mining continue to wane. The school itself has struggled with declining enrollment and seven different principals over the past 11 years.
“That a tiny declining town can produce a team that wins statewide competition and goes to nationals – that makes all of us proud of where we live and the great kids we are raising,” Dolphin said.
The Greenville chefs will be among 400 students from around the world participating in the ProStart Invitational, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
The winning California culinary team is scheduled to start the national competition at noon Sunday.