ICA hosts annual culinary event

Upstairs inside Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts was bustling with students and delicious smells on Tuesday.
That isn’t unusual for the ICA. What makes this day different is that the students weren’t MCC students, but high school students.
MCC's ICA held the 12th annual ICA High School Culinary Invitational on Tuesday. The invite gives high school culinary students from all over the metro area the chancge to show off their skills, prepare a three-course meal and work together as a team.
 Close to 100 students got to ICA bright and early to begin preparing for the day ahead, MCC instructor JoEllen Zuk said.
“The students arrive between 7-8 a.m. from their respective schools. They unload and bring all of their supplies in and get ready for the competition,” Zuk said. “At 8 a.m. there is a meeting for all students and teachers to review what the day is going to look like. At 9 a.m. the competition begins.”
Students are broken into four sections by color: orange, blue, green and red.
Starting at 9 a.m., students start working on food prep, commonly known as “mise en place” in the culinary world. This lasts 50 minutes. Each section starts 15 minutes apart to stagger cooking time.
Starting at 11:30 a.m., the cooking starts.
“They cook for one hour and then they deliver their meals in one hour,” Zuk said.
Ralston High School sophomore Yajaira Castillo was waiting for her team’s turn to cook and was able to watch her fellow classmates cook in the meantime.
“For now I’m watching our two other teams,” she said. “Around 12:15 p.m., I need to line up and make sure everything is good to go. Then at 12:30 we start cooking.”
Each team had to prepare an appetizer, entrée and a dessert, Zuk said. With few limitations, it gave students a chance to be creative.
“It’s pretty much up to them. They can’t make anything using alcoholic beverages. Otherwise we don’t have any restrictions,” Zuk said.
Castillo’s team’s menu included a caprese salad with a balsamic reduction, alfredo pasta with chrimp and vegetables and a lemon curd dessert with a graham cracker crust. Castillo said she was a little nervous to make sure everything was perfect for judging.
“Having everything at proper temperatures is very important,” she said. “You don’t want to accidentally give a judge food poisoning.”
Judges were comprised of 16 industry professionals, Zuk said, including chefs, restaurant managers and more.
Awards were handed out at 4 p.m. to the winning teams. The following teams were awarded medals:
Grand prize, Culinary: TCA Innovators, The Career Academy.
Second Place, Culinary: The Brotato Chips, Homeschool.
Best of Beef: Golden Jackets, Omaha Central. 
Best of Pork: Panic at the Crisco, Omaha Central. 
Best Starter: TCA Innovators, The Career Academy. 
Best Main Plate: Incredible Impastas, Papillion La Vista South.   
Best Dessert: Ragin’ Asians, Ralston High School.
Best Banner: Golden Jackets, Omaha Central.