North High culinary team wins student invitational

March 08, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • North High's culinary team includes, from left, David Lewis II, John McMillion, Shawna Plunkett, Dana Coover and Briana Walker.
Photos by Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

North Hagerstown High School's competitive culinary team has the skills that pays the tuition bills.


North High beat 18 other schools from across state at the Maryland ProStart Student Invitational in Baltimore on March 1.

As the first-place winners, the members of North's culinary team have earned their pick of scholarships from 12 schools and two businesses — from $1,000 from Johnson and Wales University to as much as $20,000 from Le Cordon Bleu Schools.

Student teams had an hour to whip up an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. They didn't have a stove and they didn't have a fridge. The only thing they could rely on were two gas burners and the skills they gleaned from hours of run-throughs after school.

North will advance to the National ProStart Invitational competition in Kansas, scheduled for Friday, April 29, through Monday, May 2. At nationals, team members will have the chance to compete for more scholarships.

Representing the Hubs were five students from Joy Malcolm's food and beverage management class: Dana Coover, 16, junior; John McMillion, 17, senior; Shawna Plunkett, 17, senior; Briana Walker, 18, senior; and freshman David Lewis II, who went as an alternate.

The crew opened with an appetizer of mixed baby green salad with fresh mangoes, raspberries, candied walnuts and raspberry balsamic vinaigrette encased in a ring of Parmesan cheese.

Briana Walker was in charge of the appetizer. She said she faced her biggest fear — burning the Parmesan — on competition day.

"Something weird happened with the bottom ring," she said. But her teammate, John, calmly said to her: "Just throw it out and make another one."

Done and done.

"It came out better," Walker said.

Shawna, who describes herself as the "perfectionist," had to make the entree: pan-seared tilapia filet, seasoned cous cous and garlic sauteed spinach with olive butter sauce.

She was nervous but she had a strategy for keeping her cool.

"I sang Taylor Swift," she said laughingly.

Shawna had to make her dish at the last minute in order for it to be hot enough upon serving. They couldn't finish too early because the fish would get cold. The team ended up finishing two minutes before the buzzer.

Judges scored the students on food safety, the use of proper cooking methods and the taste of the food.

This year, Malcolm decided to take a new group of students. Shawna and John had already expressed interest in going to culinary school.

"It definitely shows you the work ethic you have to have to be in this industry," said John, who plans to study baking and pastry at the Art Institute of Washington.

Shawna has been accepted to Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Punxsutawney, where she plans to study culinary arts. Indiana is not one of the schools offering scholarships from the competition, but she said she's now eying schools from the competition.

"I've loved cooking since I was little," she said.

Malcolm said the first-place win was a reprieve from two years ago, when North High entered a team and placed 14 out of 22.

"We had a lot of learning to do," she said.

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