Give these teens a little elbow room, and look what happens.
New construction last summer took students at the La Quinta Culinary Arts Institute from working in a 900 square foot classroom to a brand new 12,000 square foot facility on campus with state-of-the-art appliances, demonstration kitchen and a dining room.
The difference in space is showing up in the food.
“The demonstration kitchen attracted more guest chefs who were able to provide one-on-one mentoring and the additional space in this larger kitchen enabled the team members to extend practice opportunities,” says Shari Tucker, La Quinta High School culinary arts instructor. “The team is in better shape overall because of the added value of our new facility.”
Five of Tucker’s young chefs have earned the chance to compete May 3-4 in the finals of the 2014 National ProStart Invitational in Minneapolis, a nationwide cooking competition featuring high schools from across the country. They advanced to nationals after winning the California ProStart Cup in March in Sacramento.
The culinary team of three juniors and two seniors call themselves “MaJic,” a name created from their initials, and consistent with the Moroccan theme of their competition meal and their magical enthusiasm. On the team are captain Jennifer Stasi and co-captain Cesar Acuna, both seniors; and juniors Maddie Rios, William Bockler, and Adrian Valdez.
While sponsors have underwritten a portion of the costs to compete in the national competition, the team still needs additional funds to cover expenses. To support the program and the students, Miramonte Resort & Spa recently hosted a “Grand Tasting” benefit dinner recently and raised $2,500.
“With the significance of the restaurant and hospitality industry in our community, it’s vital that we encourage our kids to pursue their dreams, and with this distinguished program, students are given a head start towards a rewarding culinary career,” says Jim Pedone, regional director, sales and marketing for Miramonte Resort & Spa.
Team MaJic, with the help of Miramonte’s culinary crew, prepared their three-course championship meal for 80 people. Their dinner featured Mussels Potage Marrakech as an appetizer, Moroccan Rockin’ Chicken for the main course (pictured above), and a dessert of Tangier Poached Pears.
In the kitchen, the kids prepared steamed mussels ,which were in a richly flavored carrot potage to which they added grated raw carrots for texture and flavor. The hearty appetizer came with a generous portion of six mussels per person.
The main course consisted of an airplane cut breast of chicken, rubbed with Harissa, grilled and topped with a pomegranate molasses syrup. The delicately flavored chicken breast was moist and tender, perfectly cooked, on a bed of saffron-infused cous-cous with chunks of braised butternut squash and fresh sautéed spinach.
Whole stem-in pears for the Tangier Poached Pears dessert (pictured at left) were dusted with roasted pistachios and carefully seated in a cinnamon caramel sauce with slices of blood orange and a sprig of mint. A bowl of orange blossom whipped cream accompanied the dessert, so guests could add as they wished.
To continue fund-raising efforts, the students have created their own date chutney and date syrup that they package and sell through Shields Date Garden.
For more information, contact La Quinta High School at 760-772-4150, ext. 152.