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South Salt Lake Journal

Food competitions take the cake

Mar 12, 2020 11:41AM ● By Jet Burnham

Team members attend to specific details to create apple cinnamon cupcakes with apple cider buttercream and caramel drizzle. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

10 seconds...5 seconds...time’s up!

Eight teams of students and teachers emerged from the dust of flour and sugar with creations such as panda-faced red velvet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream chocolate chip filling and apple cinnamon cupcakes with apple cider buttercream and a last-minute caramel drizzle. The latter was named winner of Fort Herriman Middle School’s second annual Cupcake Wars held Jan. 22.

A passion for cooking, the thrill of competition and bragging rights, motivates many teens to enter cooking competitions.

“It lets them be creative in a way that school doesn't always let kids be creative,” said Madison Heist, teacher and judge at FHMS.

All seventh graders learn basic cooking skills. Older students take Foods and Nutrition classes as electives. The most serious high school students take two years of ProStart classes to prepare for food service industry jobs. But the recipe for creating a love of cooking is to set a challenge and set a timer—it’s the contests that really take the cake.

Competitive cooking is a popular TV trend that has influenced many foods instructors to incorporate contests into their curriculum—who can create the best smoothie or ice cream sandwich? Others host afterschool competitions for any student who thinks they can craft the best pizza, burger or cupcake.

For more intense competition, the  Family Career and Consumers Leaders of America (FCCLA) offers student competitions in Baking and Pastry and Culinary Arts events. ProStart hosts region, state and national competitions requiring teams to create and execute a three-course meal.

This year at FCCLA competitions, Jordan High School students won third in Baking and Pastry in their region and advanced to state in Culinary Arts and Instructional Video Design. They are currently preparing for ProStart region competition later this month.

Jordan High foods instructor Shauna Young said competitions provide learning opportunities students can’t get in a classroom.

“In the classroom, they have a limited amount of time and oftentimes a limited amount of resources,” Young said. “Having students compete teaches them to try new things, expand their comfort zone, build confidence, and do hard things that they didn’t think they could do.”

JHS junior Jordan Castaneda likes that competitions allow him to be more creative. For the ProStart competition later this month, his team will make shrimp nigiri, stir fry chicken in a noodle nest, and layered mocha Chantilly cake. They will have just one hour and two gas burners to execute their menu and will be judged on taste, presentation, technique, time management, knife safety, sanitation, food cost, menu planning and business plan.

During competitions, students are expected to problem-solve on the fly. As a FCCLA event judge, Kristy Yeschick watches for how well students respond to problems under pressure.

“In the classroom they have that safety net,” she said. “If they mess up, it's OK, they can do it again. Whereas in the competition, you want to be your best—you’ve got to be at your top game.”

Copper Hills High School foods instructor Megan Maxfield said competitions teach teamwork, problem-solving, time management, and leadership skills.

When CHHS teams competed in the FCCLA regional Baking and Pastry event, problem-solving began weeks before the competition. The recipes they were given recipes for chocolate chip cookies and garlic bread knots had errors, said senior Brooklyn Gutierrez. Measurements and cooking times had to be adjusted through trial and error during several practice runs.

Senior Brooklyn Gutierrez said recipes had to be adjusted during practice sessions.

At competition, the team had to adapt to even more complications: Their cookie dough got too cold, the kitchen equipment was unfamiliar, and humid weather affected their recipes. 

“When I pulled the dough out of the proofer, it looked weird,” said junior Kylah Jeske. “I was freaking out that it wasn't going to work out.” The team made adjustments and were happy with their final product, which took third place.

FHMS teacher Kayla Martin, whose team has won cupcake wars both years, said skills gained through competitions benefit everyone, not just those interested in highly competitive culinary careers.

“Everybody works a fast food job at some point in their life,” she said. “So it’s good practice for working in a kitchen or a high stress job.”

Many students love the thrill of the stressful environment of competition.

“I like the pressure,” JHS senior Mia Conham said. “I think it's fun and I get really competitive.”

 JHS senior Holly Tang said when they are prepared, they can enjoy the competition. 

“We always have a ton of fun,” she said. “We’re always laughing and joking with each other.”

Emma Powell, a competitor in FHMS’s Cupcake Wars, said it’s easy to forget about the pressure when doing something you enjoy.

“It has a competitive aspect to it but you also have fun in the moment,” she said. “Then you realize there's 10 minutes left. There are people you have to beat. So you put more effort than you think you can put into it.”