The Pocahontas County High School ProStart competition team travelled to Charleston as one of eight teams selected to compete in the 11th annual Junior Cast Iron Cook-Off.
Similar to Saturday, February 6’s, main event, the junior Cast Iron Cook-Off required each team to use locally grown and harvested ingredients to prepare a traditional Appalachian meal – consisting of an entrée, a side dish and a dessert. Additionally, the high school competition went one step further in that the dishes prepared by the ProStart teams follow the guidelines laid out by the Office of Child Nutrition.
“The goal of the competition was to encourage students to work with locally grown ingredients,” instructor Teresa Mullen explained, “as well as open their eyes to the possibilities that could be offered in their school cafeterias.”
According to the HHFKA Lunch Meal Pattern found on the Office of Child Nutrition’s website, ninth through 12th grade students must receive a daily minimum of two ounces of meat or meat alternative, two ounces of grains, one cup of fruit, one cup of vegetables, and eight ounces of either fat-free or one-percent milk.
Prior to the competition, each participating team sent its menu to the Office of Child Nutrition to ensure that the planned meal would meet the required guidelines.
“That was probably the hardest part for us,” Mullen said, “just being able to find ingredients that looked and tasted good, were traditional West Virginia foods, and would meet the nutritional guidelines.”
Teams were made up of ProStart students and their instructor, a member of the school’s food service personnel and an agriculture education student.
The PCHS team consisted of senior Courtney Coetzee, junior Brittney Sharp, food service personnel Kim McComb and Mullen, while junior Brandal Carr rounded out the team’s requirements by serving as both a member of the ProStart competition team and as the team’s agriculture education student.
True to the competition’s name, contestants used a mixture of cast iron and regular cookware to prepare each dish and were only able to use butane burners as their heat source. With the exception of certain appliances – such as immersion blenders and mixers – teams were not permitted to use electricity.
During the competition, each team was given half an hour to set up their station prior to the competition, and once the clock began, the teams had an hour to prepare and plate their dishes before presenting them to the judges.
A pan-seared rainbow trout fillet – prepared by Carr and coupled with a maple butternut squash puree – served as the team’s entrée. McComb and Sharp worked together to prepare a side dish of spicy quinoa and corn fritter, while Coetzee and Mullen prepared an iced cinnamon roll, served with a salted caramel sauce and topped with crushed walnuts.
“This is the second year Brandal, Brittney and Courtney have worked together,” Mullen said of her students, “and they were great. In terms of their upcoming competitions, this was their most relaxed competition, but it was still a wonderful experience. It helped them figure out their teamwork, gave them a sense of compatibility and gave them a chance to better equip themselves for the future.”
While the team did not place, they were awarded Best Teamwork for the second year in a row.
At the beginning of March, Mullen and her students will travel to Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown to compete in the Hospitality Cup.
Of eighteen chefs nominated to participate in this year’s Cast Iron Cook-Off, Snowshoe Mountain Resort Executive Chef Scott MacGregor was one of five chefs chosen to compete and was joined by Mullen – his sous chef at Snowshoe – and Coetzee for Saturday’s event.
Per the competition’s guidelines, each team was required to have two professionals and six additional team members. Of the available spots, one was designated to allow a ProStart student to compete – in this case, Coetzee – while the remaining spots were sold to the competition’s sponsors.
Once purchased, each sponsor would provide employees – often with minimal cooking experience – to round out their chef’s team. Buzz Food Service, out of Charleston, purchased MacGregor’s spots.
“Working with them went well,” Mullen said of her Buzz Food Service teammates. “Scott and I assigned them tasks that we knew they could complete, and we had a meeting the night before. We went over the menu, assigned each member a job, and talked with them about how they would do that job. We know things can get stressful, but this is supposed to be a fun activity, and we wanted to keep it that way.”
With their teammates hard at work, MacGregor focused his attention on the meal’s starter and entrée. First, a Fish Bone Soup was prepared, followed by Venison Pot Au Feu – a variation of a French stew – and sautéed root vegetables.
For dessert, Mullen prepared a chocolate-filled pear dumpling, accompanied by an amaretto crème anglaise, a vanilla crème anglaise and a scoop of maple syrup ice cream.
Like with the PCHS ProStart team, MacGregor did not place but was presented with the Best Teamwork award.
When Mullen was first introduced to the culinary world when she began working in restaurants while she was a high school student. Upon graduating, Mullen went on to attend Indiana University of Pennslyvania Academy of Culinary Arts, where she participated in the pastry program.
In time, Mullen made her way to Snowshoe Mountain Resort, where she became a sous chef under MacGregor.