Murray High culinary students cater, prepare for upcoming competitionDec 01, 2021 02:35PM ● By Julie Slama
Chef KC Gray shows his students the proper technique to prepare chicken. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
Every week this December, Murray High advanced culinary students will put their talents to the test as they prepare catered meals for their school community in the Spartan Cove.
It may be for teachers, an athletic team or performing art group. They annually have served dinner for the Murray School District Pinnacles recipients.
In late October, the student-chefs had a small catering opportunity as they prepared a homemade nacho bar for 30 people, in this case, a Hispanic heritage night. Small groups of students were preparing carnitas, carne asada, pollo, pico de gallo, horchata and more from scratch.
While Murray High’s ProStart class has about 18 students, the competition will feature just a five-member team—four who cook and one who coaches. Murray High plans to participate in the Northern Regional competition in February. State is in March.
ProStart is a national two-year program for high school students that develops talent for the restaurant and food service industry. Students learn culinary techniques, management skills, communication, customer service skills, math, nutrition, and workplace and food safety procedures.
In Utah, there are about 70 ProStart programs. Students try out to make their school’s culinary team and then compete at one of the three regional competitions against 12 to 14 teams.
The teams, which typically have about five members, can only use two burners to prepare a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, entrée and dessert in 60 minutes. Student-chefs cannot use electricity. They are judged on techniques such as knife safety to menu planning and from creating a business plan to taste of the prepared meal.
Junior Brooke Bodily is Murray High’s team captain.
“I missed not having the competitions last year during COVID,” she said. “Instead, we worked a lot on skills, especially knife skills.”
While catering these weekly meals, Bodily is thinking about the upcoming competitions. She already has in mind to make maple-crusted salmon with a maple glaze as an appetizer, but she wants to work together as a team to come up with a theme and the rest of the menu.
“We’ll practice and try out all sorts of recipes,” she said, adding that their menu also will be determined by the skills of each team member. “With competitions, we learn how to work as a team under pressure and prepare using the techniques we’ve learned in class.”
It’s a love that Bodily has enjoyed since she was little.
“I started cooking when I was old enough to hold a whisk. My mom would let me help cook and bake. Then every time I’d go to see my grandma, I’d make something; so it’s ended up I’m making something in the kitchen at home weekly.”
Now, she wants to be a professional chef or maybe even a foods teacher, saying she may even take her teacher Chef KC Gray’s place.
That’s what happened to him.
“I told my teacher (Kay Morgan), ‘I’m going to be you one day’—and that’s what I did,” he said remembering that day when she retired seven years ago.
During his Murray High School days, Gray was a part of Morgan’s culinary program. He competed in ProStart as well as in the Iron Chef Competition. He also represented Murray High at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute Best Teen Chef Competition. He had to create his own recipe, send in a photo of his dish and write an essay.
He attended and graduated from college with both an associate’s and bachelor’s degree, then went to work as a professional chef at several venues, including the now-defunct Denver’s Fuel Café, which was known to have brought together American dishes with European influences using organic and non-GMO ingredients.
“I learned a lot of my techniques there that I share with my students today,” he said.
Popularity in the program has grown and he now teaches about 150 students per semester from Foods I through ProStart classes.
“This is a life skill that everyone needs and will use the rest of their lives,” he said. “It’s lab-heavy, 85 to 90% we’re cooking and having a lot of fun while learning.”