Competition heats up, competitors stay cool at university’s first-ever Recipe for Excellence

Neenah High School takes first place; St. Croix Falls runner-up
Neenah High School students Nikki Messick, at left, and Madelynn Hendriks work against the clock as they cook their competition dish in 60 minutes at UW-Stout’s Recipe for Excellence culinary competition Thursday, Feb. 8.
Pam Powers | February 9, 2018

When the competition gets hot, keeping their cool is imperative, according to high school students competing in University of Wisconsin-Stout’s first-ever Recipe for Excellence competition Thursday, Feb. 8.

A total of 20 high school students, in teams of two, brought their cooking skills and recipes for pork to the competition, which was like the Food Network’s “Iron Chef” television cooking show. Students had 60 minutes to prepare two identical pork entrees and side dishes on butane burners. A panel of three judges taste-tested one of the dishes, and the other was put on display.

Drew Anderson, 18, and Kurt Chafer, 17, of Bruce High School, competed because they wanted to experience a competition outside their school. They made pork tenderloin wrapped in maple bacon with maple syrup.

“I picked it because I’ve done it with bacon-wrapped shrimp, and I thought it would work well with pork,” Anderson said.

St. Croix Falls High School students Isabelle Coen, at left, and Brittany Tucker took second place in the culinary competition at UW-Stout. UW-Stout photo by Brett Roseman.

Timing was the biggest challenge of the competition, Anderson said. “You have to make sure everything gets done at the same time,” he noted.

Students had to have matching culinary outfits and were judged on menu design, cost analysis, safety and sanitation, presentation and fundamental cooking techniques.

School of Hospitality Leadership Professor Phil McGuirk was one of the judges as was hotel, restaurant and tourism management senior Alex Vernon and Connie Fedor, Wisconsin Restaurant Association Education Foundation executive director.

All said they were proud of the high school students.

“They are on the right track to success,” McGuirk said. “I am very impressed and can feel their passion.”

Fedor said the students showed pride in their dishes and took the time to come up with some excellent menus.

Neenah High School’s first-place winning pork dish.“Their talent and creativity are impressive,” Fedor said. “They are able to apply their classroom learning with their vegetable cuts, and how they prepared the pork and what sauces and spices blend well.”

The School of Hospitality Leadership and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Education Foundation hosted the competition.

The event served as a warmup for a state competition, the ProStart Invitational March 12-14 in Milwaukee, part of the Wisconsin Restaurant Show. The state winner advances to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation ProStart Invitational April 27-29 in Providence, R.I.

Professor Brian Bergquist, interim chairman of UW-Stout’s hospitality school, said the competition was a success and plans are already underway for next year’s competition.Brian Bergquist

“This is a recruitment tool as well as an opportunity for the students to learn and grow,” said Bergquist, who has been a judge at the ProStart state and national competition the last 10 years and is a member of the WRA Education Foundation Board of Directors.

“I was impressed with their execution,” he said of the students.

Kristal Gerdes, associate dean of the College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Services and assistant professor in the School of Hospitality, said the popularity of cooking shows has heated up interest in culinary careers.

“Culinary is so hot with students coming out of high school,” Gerdes said.

Recipe for Excellence had 10 teams competing in the timed, culinary competition.

UW-Stout students volunteered to help organize the event.

Grace McMahon, 20, a junior hotel, restaurant and tourism major, said being an organizer allowed her to get to know some of the professors at UW-Stout better and to meet high school students competing. “It was awesome to see all these extremely talented high school students make some fascinating dishes,” she said.

Olivia Will, 21, a junior hotel, restaurant and tourism major, said the high school students took the competition to a high level. “I was just blown away,” she said.

Kristal GerdesAddison Bartikofsky, 17, and Kyla Simpson, 16, of Green Bay, competed on one of three Preble High School teams. “I enjoy it. Cooking is a way to be creative,” Simpson said. “It teaches you time management and how to work under pressure.”

The team cooked braised pork tenderloin with wild mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes.

“The judges liked the pork a lot and thought the sauce was well-flavored,” Simpson said, noting the judges would have preferred more flavorful potatoes.St. Croix Falls High School’s second-place winning dish.

As teammates they know when one becomes stressed the other must maintain composure, Bartifkofsky said. “Things are not always going to go just right, but you have to keep working,” Simpson said.

The first place went to Neenah High School with team members Madelynn Hendriks and Nikki Messick and second place was St. Croix Falls with team members Brittany Tucker and Isabelle Coen. There was a three-way tie with Bruce, Middleton and one of the Pewaukee teams. The Middleton students were Mario Morales and Tanner Mickelson and Pewaukee included Grace Adams and Zoey Ramey. First- through third-place students won $500, $200 and $100 scholarships to UW-Stout.

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Photos / by Brett Roseman of UW-Stout

Neenah High School students Nikki Messick, at left, and Madelynn Hendriks work against the clock as they cook their competition dish in under 60 minutes at UW-Stout’s Recipe for Excellence culinary competition Thursday, Feb. 8. The team won first-place.

St. Croix Falls High School students Isabelle Coen, at left, and Brittany Tucker took second place in the culinary competition at UW-Stout. 

Neenah High School’s first-place winning pork dish.

Brian Bergquist

Recipe for Excellence had 10 teams competing in the timed, culinary competition.

Kristal Gerdes

St. Croix Falls High School’s second-place winning dish.