Badger culinary team slices and dices its way to the top
No time for mistakes.
And certainly no time to fret over spilled caramel sauce.
Badger High School’s team of culinary students had just one hour to prepare a three-course meal using only two butane burners at the National ProStart Invitational in San Diego in April.
The team of seniors Kendall Kelly and Clayton Maricle and juniors Jessica Bania and Michael Pane captured first place, topping teams from 35 states.
“They called us the German army,” Maricle said.
The team practiced for months, tweaking its menu, sharpening its cooking skills and adjusting to only having a 10-by-10-foot space in which to work. The team constantly was figuring out ways to shave a few minutes off the process.
The menu highlighted classical technique but with an innovative spin, said Russ Tronsen, the team’s coach and family and consumer education teacher at Badger.
Because most classical cooking techniques require much time, the team had to adapt the recipes to be feasible despite the time and equipment limitations, he said.
The team prepared three starters using fresh, live Maine lobster: a gazpacho soup served in hand-carved cucumber cups, lobster salad with apple and fennel and a Knuckle Sandwich using the lobster knuckle meat.
The entrée was braised veal shank with cranberry and red wine reduction. Dessert was filled vanilla bean cannelloni with pasta made from scratch.
“There was lots of arguing,” Kelly said of the menu, which the team still was finalizing until the week before the contest.
Judges evaluated teams for taste, presentation, technique, cleanliness and teamwork.
“They said we were the innovators this year,” Tronsen said.
Perhaps what impressed the judges the most was the team’s inventive method for cooking the veal shank, he said. Veal shank typically is braised for a few hours, but the team used a pressure cooker to “braise” it in just 47 minutes.
It took the team weeks of practice to find just the right amount of liquid so that when the meat was done, remaining juices would form an almost-finished sauce.
Tronsen said the judges were “blown away” by the classic dish.
The team’s dessert also impressed the judges, who called it the most creative at the competition, he said.
Although team members tried to deny their apprehension, Tronsen said they were nervous.
“But as soon as they start, their demeanor changes,” he said. “Immediately, they’re focused.”
During the competition, teammates can only communicate with each other. Still, they’re curious about what’s going on around them. But Tronsen told the Badger team to forget about the other teams.
“We’re executing the thing we know best, and that’s our menu,” he said. “What the rest of the teams are doing doesn’t matter.”
Bania and Kelly said they sang to each other to keep calm.
Each member of the team received a $5,000 scholarship from the National Restaurant Association and The Coca-Cola Co., which sponsors the competition. They also were offered scholarships to culinary schools across the country.
Maricle plans to attend UW-Stout next fall to major in family and consumer education and become a teacher. Kelly plans to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., next fall and become a pastry chef.
Bania and Pane have another year of high school left, but both plan to stick with the culinary industry. Bania wants to be a chef, and Pane wants to open an Italian restaurant.