Mission Hosts HS Culinary Competition

by Diane Andrews, Santa Clara Weekly

The highly-reputed Mission College Hospitality Management Department hosted “What’s Cookin’ 2018,” its third annual culinary competition for high school culinary students, on March 22. The competition and day’s activities introduced students to the Santa Clara college’s hospitality training program and generated enthusiasm about careers in the hospitality industry.

More than 120 invited high school and middle school students—including Buchser and Peterson in Santa Clara—toured campus, followed by a buffet lunch prepared by Mission College Hospitality Management students.

“I am very excited to host so many young people that are interested in hospitality management. My hope is that you will find some things today that will offer you insight to our wonderful industry; information that will clarify and solidify your path to a fulfilling career,” Department Chair Chef Daniel Arias told the visiting students.

Five competing culinary teams of four raced against the clock in one of the department’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchens. They had exactly 75 minutes to prepare Dijon (mustard) chicken smothered in mushrooms and a Greek salad with feta cheese dressing. TV monitors displayed their progress to observers in the kitchen and hospitality dining room.

The teams were from Santa Clara’s Wilcox High School and Homestead, Fremont, Lynbrook and Cupertino High Schools in the Fremont Union School District. Six competition judges, clipboards and pens in hand, wandered around the kitchen looking over shoulders and taking notes.

“I’m honored to be a judge. I love the opportunity to partner with Mission College,” said Chris Dunn, Human Resources Director, Santa Clara Marriott. “As an HR director, I’m looking for team work, strong communication, energy, passion, enthusiasm. This is fabulous.”

As a dietitian, judge Mary Jennings, Coordinator of Food Services, Fremont Union High School, had a different perspective.

“I’m focusing on food handling and sanitation,” said Jennings. “I also appreciate good knife skills and plating. I like organization. It’s hard to work in a kitchen you don’t know.”

The other judges were Rick Bennett, VP Administrative Services, Mission College; Jose Guerrero, Food and Beverage Operations Manager, Bay Clubs; Chona Piumarta, Executive Chef and owner/operator of Lathrop Café, Stanford University; and Erika Rodriguez, Chef, Apple Computers.

Once time was up, the culinary teams presented their plated food to the judges for viewing and tasting. The judges gave immediate feedback to each team.

Then, while the judges’ scores were being tallied, students listened to a career panel discussion about trends in food, hospitality, and career paths.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase pathways from high school to college and an opportunity to display our wonderful, updated Hospitality Management facilities with baking kitchen—as well as our highly-respected chef instructors,” said Susan Schenck, Mission College culinary teacher and coordinator of the culinary competition.

And the winners? Wilcox High School team members Cole, Christian, Syl and Felix took first place. Second place went to Cupertino High School and third place to Lynbrook High School.

“[Competing] is really fun actually. It’s not my first time,” said Christian, a senior who plans to get an Associate Degree in Food Science, adding, “There’s always stress in the kitchen.”

“The Mission College Hospitality Management Program has been going strong for over 30 years,” said Chef Arias. “We consistently educate and train students to be prepared for a successful career in the challenging world of hospitality. Part of our success is because of the expert, up-to-date guidance that is provided by our supportive Advisory Board, a group that represents the diverse sectors of the industry.”