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Burnet High School’s top chefs take second at state

JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF

BURNET — The right ingredients are as important in food as the meal itself.

So look no further for the perfect culinary team recipe than that of Burnet High School students Yesi Suarez, Hayli Porter and Robyn Hall.

The three finished second at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America state culinary competition in Corpus Christi on April 11 in the program’s first year at Burnet High School.

“I used to work in fast food,” Suarez said. “I thought food was not my thing. I see it differently.”

The students had been working on mastering the three different competition menus since Dec. 11.

Ironically, the trio didn’t team up until after Suarez and Porter won the Region 5 competition Feb. 27, beating 39 other teams to advance to the state competition in Corpus Christi. All the teams were given the same menus of chicken fettuccine, salad and dessert.

Teacher Amy Grant said the competition included schools that offered degree programs geared toward culinary arts.

Suarez and Porter knew they had placed in the top 15 in the regional competition because their team name appeared on the judges board.

But a team from Boerne also placed. So when the judges announced the winners, it sounded like Boerne had won the event and even took the first-place trophy.

So Hall, who was sitting with the audience, asked “Is it Burnet or Boerne?”

That’s when the announcer said, “Burnet Team A.”

At that point, Suarez said she handed the second-place trophy to Boerne in exchange for the team championship.

The win at regionals signaled they knew what they were doing when it came to cooking the main dishes. But they also realized they needed to address two other variables: desserts and plate presentation.

So that meant recruiting the best dessert maker they could find. And it didn’t take long, they said.

To hear Suarez and Porter tell it, they approached Hall first.

“Robyn was the strongest part of the (other Burnet) groups,” Suarez said.

“We wanted someone with experience in the competition,” Porter said.

To hear it from Hall, she wanted to join the duo when her partner had to drop out because of medical reasons.

Now that their team was complete, they had to address one other obstacle: plate presentation.

Enter Lori Jowers, a professional chef who worked at Horseshoe Bay Resort, to teach them. All three said without Jowers, they don’t know if they would have placed so high at state.

Jowers gave the trio confidence, Grant said.

“She took us to the next level,” the teacher said.

At the state competition, the menu was pork tenderloin, rice pilaf, a salad with a vinaigrette and chocolate mousse.

Culinary teams must use every ingredient on each recipe, but they’re allowed to vary the amount in each dish. They can only use three burners fueled with propane provided by their own school, which means they had to take turns using them. And there’s a one-hour time limit to complete the menu.

Suarez cooked the pork tenderloin, Porter made the chocolate mousse, and Hall handled the side dishes.

The cooking in that setting is a lot like some of the timed cooking shows on television. And as the clock ticked down, the three BHS students had to pick up the pace.

“For them to go in there and be able to time their meal and make it all ready at the same time and have good time management is amazing,” Grant said.

The trio committed themselves to performing their very best during competitions by having after-school practices and going home to work on their dishes some more. All three said they never encountered a shortage of taste testers.

The three credit their teacher for their success, noting Grant pushed them to excel.

Before taking the culinary class, the trio said they didn’t do much cooking. Hall, who wants to be a pastry chef, said she could make cupcakes, while Porter’s specialties were corn dogs and pizza, and Suarez’s best dish was cereal.

Now, their families ask each of them: “What’s for dinner?”

“We never expected to have this much success,” Porter said.

“I want to work in a restaurant and just make people happy,” Hall said with a smile.

jfierro@thepicayune.com