Kewaunee High School student is testing his culinary skills in SkillsUSA Wisconsin Culinary Arts Competition
KEWAUNEE – It's not like your usual cooking competition on TV, like, say, "Next Level Chef." For one thing, Matt Wery won't have Gordon Ramsay cursing in his face with millions of people watching across the country.
That's because the cooking contest in which Wery will be competing is a test of much more than just his ability to create something in the kitchen that tastes great.
The Kewaunee High School senior is one of six high school students from across the state taking part in the annual SkillsUSA Wisconsin Culinary Arts Competition at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, with a trip to the national competition this June in Atlanta on the line.
The event was set to be March 10, but due to a potential winter storm, was rescheduled for April 14.
He'll learn if he's won during the 50th annual SkillsUSA state conference being held April 25 and 26 in Madison
SkillsUSA is a national education partnership with state and territorial chapters that serves students from middle school through college and postsecondary schools who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.
So, yes, the taste and plating of Wery's dishes will matter in the SkillsUSA contest. He and the other five competitors are making two plates of a three-course meal consisting of a clear soup, a chicken entrée with mushroom sauce, and julienne-cut glazed carrots. The dishes are made from a recipe given to them that at the competition that they must follow, although Wery said there is a little wiggle room in how the food is seasoned.
"There's a set recipe you have to follow, but you can season it however you like," Wery said.
And although he won't know the exact recipe until he gets to the competition, Wery is confident he knows pretty much what he'll need to do.
"Yeah, I would say I've done all the things we're asked to make, or made some variations of them," Wery said.
But with the emphasis on career preparation in culinary arts, Wery's technical skills in the kitchen will matter as much or more as the taste. The student chefs also will be tested and judged on everything from kitchen organization to food safety and cooking techniques.
They're also making their dishes from scratch, which means they'll be tested on their ability to fabricate a chicken — that means breaking down a whole chicken to its breast, thighs, wings and other parts — and their knife skills, showing they can julienne the carrots as well as properly dice and cube vegetables.
Finally, a written test and a resume submission also are part of the judging, with the test quizzing the students on professional kitchen knowledge such as standard weights and measures; the ability to convert recipes, yields, and portion sizes accurately; nutrition basics; environmental health practices; food-borne illnesses; menus; and terminology.
That focus on kitchen skills that would translate to making a living in the profession suits Wery, who said he's planning to enter the culinary arts program at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton after graduation. He said he's enjoyed working in the kitchen at home for almost as long as he can remember.
"Ever since I was younger, I would mess around in the kitchen doing stuff," Wery said. "Mom went to baking school, and a lot of people in my family enjoy cooking."
Wery has been honing his culinary skills in classes at Kewaunee with high school family and consumer education teacher Jackie Pionek. While those skills may seem at first glance like those taught in what were called "home economics" courses not that long ago, Kewaunee's SkillsUSA adviser Randy Charles said the emphasis, again, is on preparation for a possible career.
"There's a little bit of a different focus," Charles said. "Home ec is more focused on being able to cook for yourself, do stuff for yourself at home. Where, when you look at culinary arts competitions and some of the classes, they're more geared toward cooking as a profession, more career-based toward working in a professional kitchen versus cooking in a home kitchen."
More than 80 SkillsUSA Wisconsin state championship competitions are being held this year, with over 1,800 middle and high school students expected to test themselves in subjects ranging from commercial design to welding (construction and artistic) and machining, cosmetology to auto and diesel mechanics, first aid to woodworking, even building a carbon dioxide-powered dragster.
"Basically anything where there's a trade involved," said Wery, who's a SkillsUSA Wisconsin officer.
Almost all of the winners in those state competitions, which take place during the state conference in April, will advance to nationals, too. The association also holds regional and district competitions during the school year that students can use as practice for the state events.
For more, visit skillsusa-wi.org.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee High School student is testing his culinary skills in SkillsUSA Wisconsin Culinary Arts Competition