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Hagerstown teen sets sights on sweet career

Hargett competes in Best Teen Chef event in Las Vegas

Hargett competes in Best Teen Chef event in Las Vegas

June 15, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - At the peak of her career, Jerrica Hargett might become famous for her tea cakes or fruit tarts.

But it was her skill at putting together a meal that won her a spot in the 2008 Best Teen Chef championship.

Hargett, 18, of Hagerstown, was one of 31 regional winners from the United States and Canada competing last month in Las Vegas.

For the finals, each prepared stuffed pork bundles, sautéed peppers with olive oil and capers, and orechietti pasta with artichokes. They got 90 minutes to cook, 15 minutes to "plate," or present, the food, and 15 minutes to clean up.

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Hargett wasn't a top winner in the championship round, but she was satisfied.

"I was actually very calm," she said. "I was very happy with how I performed."

Just getting to the finals had benefits.

Hargett, an aspiring pastry chef, picked up thousands of dollars in scholarships along the way. She hopes the money will cover much of her expenses at The Art Institute of Washington, which has a culinary school she wants to attend.

She started thinking seriously about cooking while in high school in Frederick County, Md.

Starting in the summer of 2006, Hargett was an intern for Frederick baker Eva Jäätmaa, whose business, Trail Garden, offers American, Scandinavian and Swedish foods.

Jäätmaa said Hargett helped bake goods for a farmers market held each Saturday in Rockville, Md.

Hargett showed up early on Thursdays and Fridays, worked hard and helped in every way. Jäätmaa said Hargett was shy to start, but grew a lot and looked for challenges.

"She's going to go far," Jäätmaa said.

During Hargett's junior year, she moved to Hagerstown and enrolled at Washington County Technical School, which has a culinary program.

She said she graduated early, in January 2008, by taking a class at Washington County Evening High School.

Hargett is a prep chef at Cracker Barrel. She worked for three years at Burger King, but gave up her job last week, mainly to concentrate on her college career.

As of Friday, she hadn't heard if she'd been accepted at The Art Institute of Washington. She plans to commute to Arlington, Va., if she gets accepted at the school, her top choice.

Hargett explained her interest in pastry making simply as "just something that I enjoy." She said the satisfaction comes from the appeal of the final product.

While looking through scholarship packets, she noticed the Best Teen Chef competition, which required a transcript, an essay and a recipe. Hargett prepared a pork roast with rice pilaf, vegetables and a baguette, took a picture and sent it with her packet.

Next came the regional event in Arlington. Hargett said the competition menu was sautéed chicken, rice pilaf, broccoli and shrimp cocktail.

Her mother, Mary Harrison, who accompanied her to Las Vegas, said Hargett practiced preparing the dishes, on deadline, for her family.

Cooking and baking are usually on Hargett's mind -- and her TV, which often is tuned to the Food Network.

"She has a goal and she's determined to make it work," her mother said.

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