CLINTON — A competitive atmosphere isn’t typically what students in Brenda Rasche’s culinary arts class have come to expect. On Monday, the students saw themselves pitted against one another in a culinary exhibition.
Four teams of two faced off in the first “Chopped” inspired cooking competition at Clinton High School thanks to the sponsorship and influence of Hy-Vee. “Chopped” is a cooking show on the Food Network.
Representatives Brandi Carney and Amber Riedel said the theory of the competition came from Hy-Vee floral department manager Becci Tiesman-Day, who thought it would be interesting to introduce the competition setting to the culinary program at CHS.
“She heard they had a large culinary program and said ‘how cool would it be to have them do a ‘Chopped’ challenge?’” Riedel said. “So we started discussing it and working out the details and decided we would provide the ingredients and any other help they would need to put it all together.”
Fresh produce, fruit of all varieties and a few “secret” ingredients greeted the nine students — one student handled all of the preparation and distribution of completed dishes — who participated in Monday’s competition, and while some of those ingredients presented a new set of challenges to each of them, it was the time limit that really brought the pressure.
WATCH: CHS students Brooke Lehman and Crystal Ammeter earned Chopped glory during a cooking challenge.
Winners of the challenge, Brooke Lehman and her partner Crystal Ammeter, said nerves coming into Monday’s cooking competition were already a factor, but when the clock started ticking and time went by, handling those nerves was one of the biggest challenges of the day.
”It was really scary. I didn’t know what to expect with any of it,” Ammeter said. “In the beginning we were very organized, but by the end, we were kind of all over the place.”
But, the benefits it offered, said Lehman, made it worth the anxiety.
WATCH: Chopped competition at Clinton High School
”Doing this showed us how to manage our time,” Lehman said. “Without having this type of pressure, you don’t really get the real life experience of working in a kitchen and having a timeframe to work. That’s really helped put it into perspective for me.”
Not only were the students forced to compete against each other and against the clock, they also were scored by what many called an intimidating panel of judges.
With food aficionados Tristan Kao, kitchen manager at Rastrelli’s, and Jon Paton, a former Chicago-based chef and current Assistant Manager at Hy-Vee, joined by Hy-Vee Store Director Chad Seely and Associate Principal Brian Galusha, Rasche knew the pressure would be on her students to deliver a delicious, four-course meal.
When the final buzzer rang on the two-hour long competition, and the four-judge panel announced the winners, an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction consumed Rasche as she addressed her students, fighting back tears with each word.
”I can’t even tell you how proud I am of all of you,” said Rasche to her students, turning her attention then to the Hy-Vee sponsors and volunteer judges. “This gives my students a ton of invaluable work experience so thank you for taking a risk. I can’t say enough what this all means to me.”
The four winning dishes of the day, including Lehman and Ammeter’s crowd-favorite, Chex-Mix encrusted cod and their strawberry and zucchini smoothies, will be prepared by Hy-Vee staff and featured at The Market Cafe.
In addition to earning the credit for the dishes, a portion of the proceeds collected from selling the four winning dishes will be donated back to the culinary program at Clinton High School.
Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.