By Denise Nelson Prieto, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 8, 2018)
The SkillsUSA culinary competition was a feast for the stomach and eyes at the Team Bliss Culinary Center here Friday.
Culinary arts students from area high schools competed in one of three categories in the four-hour contest, and Soldiers assigned to the 1st Armored Division served as judges. This was the second year in a row the contest took place at Fort Bliss. Categories were divided into cooking, commercial baking and food and beverage service.
Pfc. Kevin Rodriguez was a judge for the cooking portion of the contest and said he was particularly looking for sanitation, organization, consistency and presentation.
“They’re trying to prove they’re the best of the best, and that’s what we try to do in our competitions,” he said. “It’s an honor for me to be here.”
For him, cooking is not only a skill and an art form, but something the competitors can carry with them through the rest of their lives. He sees the fruits of labor come through in the way a meal tastes and looks.
“The effort and love of what you’re doing really come across,” he said.
The contest was good practice for the judges, who will compete in the 43rd Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Virginia, March 8 through 16.
The visual appeal of the food on a plate is on an even footing with the way it tastes, and is also heavily weighted in the competition.
Gabriel Lopez, a junior at J.M. Hanks High School in El Paso, competed in the food and beverage portion.
“This competition is meant to improve yourself,” he said.
Cody Earnest, a junior at Eastlake High School in El Paso, had similar sentiments.
“It’s a way of taking the ingredients and making it your own way, in your own style,” he said. “You’re really against yourself in this completion, not against others.”
Students were definitely against the clock in the event, which added real-world pressure to the contest.
For Jessica Rominsky, an instructor of culinary arts at Socorro High School, “speed and time management” are just some of the elements the students will need if they pursue a career in the culinary industry.
“If you like high stress and a high pace, go for it,” she said.
She also recognized the importance of being chosen to compete in the contest as not only a point of honor, but as a way to potentially pay for higher education in the culinary arts. The College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, for example, provides a number of scholarships to students participating in the competition.
Many participants shared a similar sentiment on presentation.
“We’re really trying to teach our kids the concept you eat with your eyes,” Rominsky said. “Yeah all the food might be on the plate, but does it look artistic?”