Grand County high school students: In the kitchen, where they belong
As many of their friends live comfortably off pizza, several Middle Park High School students have acquired a taste for the finer things in life.Cooks Levi Sapien (10th grade), Josh VanNatta (11th grade), Joey Coucke (11th grade), Dan Walker (11th grade), and Matt Hydro Hydrosko (10th grade) have already been heating up the local culinary scene, earning first-place honors in the dessert category at this year’s 25th Annual Chef’s Cup competition for their double-dipped, chocolate-covered strawberries and chocolate truffles.They participated in the fundraiser as representatives from the MPHS Pro Start class, taught by Connie Fenton. The students sold truffles and burritos to their fellow students to raise money to buy the food needed for the event, which helped raise $20,000 for young athletes who participate in skiing competitions.The class curriculum covers front and back-of-the-house operations, hospitality, business and culinary skills.The students just returned from a cooking competition in Grand Junction on Feb. 15 with a seventh-place win and head next to the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Denver on March 6as one of 46 high schools approved for competition.Competitors must make an appetizer, entree and dessert using only two burners and no electricity, all in one hour’s time.Sapien said he intends to go on to the Culinary Institute of America when he graduates and that his parents have been very encouraging. He also said Fenton is a great teacher and that the Chef’s Cup was an exhilarating experience to win the People’s Choice Award. His favorite dishes to make are anything incorporating wood for baking and he tries to make each dish he creates very colorful. Sapien, who takes pride in his cleanliness and organization in the kitchen, said he hopes the team earns a third-place or better finish at the upcoming competition.VanNatta said he would like to do an internship in Keystone after he graduates. He’s loved to cook since he was a child, learning from a father who likes to cook, a mother who ran two restaurants, and watching the Food Network. He was pleasantly surprised to come away from the Chef’s Cup with an award and admits he was incredibly intimidated at first, especially since the team was set up next to the chef from the Untamed Grill (who has done very well throughout the competition’s history).He hasn’t pin-pointed a particular cooking style just yet, But I would really just like to be gnarly good at all of it, he said. I really enjoy cooking Italian and Mexican dishes. I like the taste and how you make them. He hopes the team is better prepared for its next competition and feels that all it takes is (a little more) practice.Walker also hopes to attend culinary school after graduation and said he plans to use the skills he’s learned from the class for the rest of my life. His sister, who also took the class, was a big influence in sparking his culinary interest. He also appreciates what Chef Al Sapien has shared, showing Walker and the other students different meat cuts and cooking methods as a volunteer mentor.Whether it’s for a competition or for pleasure, Walker said he tries to focus on the details and every aspect of what he produces. He especially likes to make unique foods people don’t normally think about making. He said being able to compete in the Chef’s Cup was way cool and it was amazing to be able to come through and show our skills like that. I hope we do just as well or better next year. At this point in his life, Hydrosko isn’t too sure what kind of school he wants to attend after high school. His passion for cooking was sparked every night watching the cook during his first job (as a dishwasher) at the sushi bar in Winter Park. One day, about three months into it, something clicked and I said to myself, ‘I want to do that,’ he said. For nine months after that he worked as hard as he could and on Dec. 24 that year he got an early Christmas present – his first shift as a cook.Hydrosko said his family has always been supportive of his work, that his biggest inspiration comes from his first tutor and current boss, and that The Pro Start class is the highlight of my day. As the newest member of the class, he said he can’t wait to perfect everything. His favorite dish to make is teriyaki stir-fry, but basically anything made with fire makes me happy. He said he also tries to learn something new every day and that the team learned so much from the competition in Grand Junction that he believes they’ll win the next one (March 6).
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