Christopher Warfield, a senior at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, was truly feeling the heat Sept. 8 in the Culinary Styles Gourmet Kitchen, sponsored by Sparkletts, at the L.A. County Fair. He has been through two years of culinary arts & hospitality courses at Dorsey, but had never cooked on a commercial stove before Saturday. Just prior to Christopher joining the cooking program, Dorsey’s fully commercially equipped kitchen had burned to the ground – the tragic work of an arsonist. But teacher Erevetta Marzette made do – with makeshift burnings in whatever available classroom she could find to substitute for the school’s destroyed kitchen.
“We at least finally got a stove and a refrigerator,” she said.
And that was enough for Christopher to develop his country-fried chicken soaked in buttermilk, which he entered, and prepared live, for the third annual Chefs on the Rise cooking competition at the Fair. This year’s event, held Sept. 8 and 9, was targeted at high school and college students, who, along with an assistant of their choosing, prepared a chicken dish and a peach dessert in front of three professional chefs who served as judges and an audience of supporters and Fairguests.
High school participants besides Christopher were: Carlos Romo, Banning High; Jasmine Quinones, Bell Gardens High; Kristoffer Santiago, Glendale High; and Hector Santellin, Santee Education Center.
Kristoffer Santiago took first place, and a $1,000 scholarship, with his panko-crusted chicken; Hector received second place and a $750 scholarship with a middle eastern chicken dish; Christopher Warfield took third and a $500 scholarship; Carlos received fourth for his spicy chicken and received a $250 scholarship; and Jasmine came in fifth with a Mediterranean chicken recipe and received a $125 scholarship.
Each contestant was given a “market basket” set of ingredients – a pre-arranged spread chosen by organizers of vegetables, dairy products, fruit, dry goods and chicken. They each had 70 minutes from start to finish to complete a full course dinner and a dessert.
This was the first competition for first place winner Kristoffer Santiago. He said he worked on developing his recipe the entire summer, which including meticulous knife work as he deboned the chicken in front of the judges, who were also impressed with his julienne work on the vegetables.
“His knife skills were beautiful,” said his instructor Debbie Greenwood.
All the high school contestants were between 16 and 17 years old – a fact the judges had to keep in mind while rating the students, but nevertheless astounding them, too. “I found myself surprised at their abilities at such a young age,” said judge Scott Bassin.
Dr. Jerry Chesser, coordinator of Chefs on the Rise and professor at Cal Poly Pomona’s esteemed Collins School of Hospitality Management, praised the high school culinary arts teachers who give and give and give. “It’s because of them that we have the quality we saw today.”
Teachers like Erevetta Marzette said, with the spotlight on food in the media including such avenues as the Food Network, high school students are seeing culinary arts as a viable career.
“But they’re also learning it’s not easy. But for some it’s truly a passion.”