Student chefs compete for national honors, scholarships

A group of four Columbus C4 culinary arts students are raising money for a trip to Texas to bring home a national title and more scholarship money.

The students already have won $18,000 each in scholarships after winning the Indiana ProStart Culinary Arts competition against 20 teams in Indianapolis, qualify-ing them for the national competition from April 29 to May 1 in Grapevine, Texas.

The Columbus students will represent Indiana, competing against about 50 teams, and hope to bring home a portion of more than $1.4 million in available scholarship money.

At a recent practice session at Columbus North High School kitchen, Columbus North High School senior Tina Nguyen was working on her meringue recipe. The technique involves mixing eggs and sugar with her own special combination of ingredients to form a thick, sweet topping.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

A few minutes later, she churns away at an ice cream maker, forming a vat of frozen graham cracker treat.

“Tina’s the dessert chick,” said Carrie Douglas, C4 culinary arts instructor.

Practicing now for the competition is important because the national competition has some difficult parameters. Students on each team must prepare three courses using only two gas burners, and without access to sinks, an oven or any electric or battery-operated tools.

While Nguyen works on desserts, teammate and Columbus East senior Sam Dwenger cuts spicy sausage to mix with fried grit cakes. In another portion of the student kitchen at Columbus North High School, North junior Bobby George’s hands are coated in a mix of sweet potatoes and flour as he kneads dough for gnocchi. On this day of training, the team’s fourth member, Columbus East junior Bryson Smith, missed class for illness.

About 17 percent of working-age American residents are employed in the restaurant industry, Douglas said. With the recent explosion in new restaurant concepts, ethnic cuisines and farm-to-table locally sourced eateries, the culinary arts are starting to appeal to a broader range of potential workers, she said.

While none of the students on her culinary arts team fall into this category, she has even started seeing future farmers interested in better understanding the final results of their agricultural endeavors, Douglas said.

Nguyen is an ideal example of the creative future for restaurants in Columbus, Douglas said. She will be attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C., not only for training in food preparation, but also in restaurant business. Eventually, Nguyen plans to open a small Vietnamese bubble tea shop in Columbus.

Bobby George also plans to pursue chef training, but as a junior hasn’t yet decided the exact course this will take. Dwenger, a football player at Columbus East, isn’t working towards a career in kitchens. Instead, he’ll be going to college at University of Mount Union for a degree in sports business.

The group is currently raising funds to help pay for their trip to national competition. As victors at the state competition, their entry fees are already paid, Douglas said. Still, cooking utensils and ingredients are not provided at the competition and must be shipped in advance. The team also is responsible for paying all travel and hotel expenses, Douglas said.

All told, she is hoping to raise $5,000 to $6,000 to subsidize these expenses prior to the competition’s April 29 start date.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”National culinary competition” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

National ProStart Invitational

When: April 29 through May 1

Where: Gaylord Texan Resort and Hotel in Grapevine, Texas

Price: $50 for audience members

Where to watch: Those unable to attend can live-stream the event at The competition also will be re-broadcast on the Food Network on an as-yet-unannounced date and time.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”How to help” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Columbus North High School bookstore handles all donations for school clubs and organizations based in that building, including the C4 culinary arts team.

Donations can be left at the bookstore or the C4 or main office at Columbus North High School, 1400 25th St.; 812-376-4431.