The Pocahontas County High School ProStart team won Best Dish – second place – at the annual Cast Iron Cook-off in Charleston. At the award ceremony, from left: ProStart teacher Teresa Mullen, Bridget Carroll, Green Bank Elementary-Middle School cook Valerie Lambert, Jocelyn Sharp, Lydia Tallman, West Virginia State ProStart Coordinator Tami Maynard, WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center Program Leader Tom McConnell and West Virginia State FFA Advisor Jason Hughes. Photo courtesy of Teresa Mullen

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

It’s been a busy semester for Pocahontas County High School ProStart teacher Teresa Mullen and her culinary arts students. This year, the program competed in two state level competitions in which the teams received high marks for their efforts.

First was the Cast Iron Cook-off. Students Jocelyn Sharp, Bridget Carroll and Lydia Tallman were joined by Mullen and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School cook Valerie Lambert and the team of five competed in a mystery basket-style cook-off.

“They placed – second place – but it’s called Best Dish, and they won $1,000 for that,” Mullen said. “The Cast Iron is a mystery basket. They have forty-five minutes to decide what they’re going to make and go purchase their supplies with tokens from the farmers market and write their menu. They have to do a starter, an entrée and a dessert in one hour.”

PCHS was up against six other teams, which is typical for the competition. 

Next up was the Hospitality Cup, which takes more preparation time and fewer members on the team. Sharp and Tallman were joined by Janelle Cassell and Joanie Barlow, and the team placed seventh overall against 11 teams.

“There were eleven teams that competed this year, so seventh is not bad at all, especially when you’re competing against the larger tech schools,” Mullen said. “They did place first for their menu and menu pricing, and they were second for their product check-in, and overall their scores were really good.”

Mullen said that once the scores of all the teams were revealed, the separation between first and fourth place was less than a point, so the competition was fierce.

With the Hospitality Cup, the team had to create a three course meal, as well as create a menu and calculate costs for the meal.

“They have to write their menu; they have to cost the entire menu; they have to do photographs of the menu to show the judges that what they are making is exactly what they get, and they have to do a menu pricing book that shows the menu cost of each item, and they’ve got to do their food cost percentage on top of that,” Mullen said. “It’s a lot of paperwork on top of a lot of cooking.”

To prepare for the Cup, the team worked after school for several months to hone their skills to get ready for the heat of competition.

“They go through four different sets of judges for this competition,” Mullen said. “They ask them a lot of questions so that the students can explain what they are doing – why they’ve chosen things – which I think is really good because then the judges know that the students know what they’re doing.”

Two of the team’s members – Sharp and Tallman – both plan to attend culinary school after graduation and enter the field they have enjoyed learning more about in ProStart.

“It’s something fun to do,” Sharp said of the class. “It gives you amazing opportunities.”

Competing on the state level, the two were exposed to many real-life experiences and while they didn’t have time at the Cast Iron Cook-off to meet other teams, they did at the Hospitality Cup.

“We had dinners, and we got to interact with everyone,” Tallman said.

“And there were activities after our competition and before our ceremony,” Sharp added. “We spent more time together at the Hospitality Cup.”

The students aren’t the only ones receiving state-wide recognition this year.

Mullen was recently named West Virginia ProStart Educator of Excellence.

Mullen was nominated by her fellow ProStart teachers and was chosen by a panel at the West Virginia Department of Education.

Mullen is not much for bragging about herself, but she did say it was an honor to be selected by her fellow ProStart teachers.

The PCHS ProStart program has also been named to the 2019 Elite 50 list by the National Center for Hospitality Studies at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to Sullivan University’s Associate Director of Admissions Angela Gill, the Elite 50 list recognizes high schools and career and technical centers that have shown a commitment to excellence in hospitality education.

“These schools set the standard for secondary school training in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts and/or hospitality management,” Gill wrote in a press release. “These elite programs are also marked by strong enrollment and a dedication to community outreach. We also conducted research to establish schools with strong hospitality enrollment and influence in their community.”

To view the full Elite 50 list, visit pages.sullivan.edu/elite50/winners.asp

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