A taste of success: Dover High culinary team wins title

Dover High seniors Riley Maldonado, left, and Alicia Dennin were part of a winning Delaware Pro Start Student Invitational effort. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — They tasted success, literally, early this month.

Five Dover High classmates created and cooked a menu to win the sixth annual Delaware ProStart Student Invitational on March 2.

Combining their culinary skills in a focused effort for an hour, Riley Maldonado, Alicia Dennin, Charles Logan Gibson, Nicole Mitchell and Athena Wolff concocted the top entree, appetizer and dessert to earn the title and substantial scholarship money that comes with it.

Twenty teams and more than 100 students took part, vying for the honor of representing Delaware at April’s national competition in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cape Henlopen High’s team won the restaurant management competition to complete a downstate sweep at the Chase Center on Wilmington’s Riverfront area.

Members of Dover High’s championship culinary team included, from left, Riley Maldonado, Alicia Dennin, Athena Wolff, Nicole Mitchell and program director Trina Stump. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The DHS kids met the challenge of making Cavatelli pasta as a starter course, earning kudos in the degree of difficulty from coordinator Raelynn Grogan of the sponsor, Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Uttering the ultimate compliment of “I want to put this on my menu!” was a chef from Delaware’s beaches, according to Ms. Grogan.

“All of the culinary teams that competed this year brought it, but only one team gets to represent the state of Delaware at NPSI and Dover’s input, process, output came out on top this year,” she said. “Teamwork definitely made the dream work here.”

The scrumptious appetizer was followed by a main course of filet mignon, polenta, baby arugula and beet salad. An apple cider caramel mousse in a dark chocolate cup with caramel sauce on a plate topped it off.

The competition consisted of creating dinner for two within 60 minutes using two bunsen burners. No running water, electricity or oven was allowed.

Juniors Nicole Mitchell, left, and Athena Wolff chop carrots in the Dover High kitchen. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Restaurateurs, chefs, managers, and post-secondary representatives were among the 30 judges this year. The culinary contest was decided on eight factors: Product check-in, menu and costing, knife skills, team presentation/work skills/organization, safety and sanitation, starter, entree, and dessert appearance and taste.

Overseeing the operation was Maldonado who kept his team on a schedule and addressed any unforeseen complications as his four teammates cooked and created.

“They did really well, especially considering some of the run throughs before that weren’t that great,” he said. “To have them do so well in the actual heat of competition, to do better than the practice time, I’m really proud of them.”

Picured are Dover High’s winning entrée, appetizer and dessert at the Delaware Pro Start Student Invitational. (Submitted photo/Trina Stump)

Trina Stump, DHS culinary program coordinator, who reportedly shed joyful tears when the Senators won, said “[i]t’s major pressure to do this. They’re amazing.”

Pasta expert Wolff said she was “nervous” the entire time; Mitchell said it was “scary.”

Thanks to her school program and ProStart success, much of Dennin’s first year of attending Johnson & Wales University is covered by scholarship money.

“I want to be a chef, I want to be a cook for the rest of my life,” she said.

Perseverance paid after the team flopped in the 2017 competition when the salmon presented was raw in the center, pricing and menus were disorganized, a sauce tasted oily and “something caught on fire,” according to Dennin.

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