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Culinary Teams Take Top Prizes

 

A high school culinary/hospitality program offered at NMU capped the recent academic year with two first-place finishes at statewide competitions by two different teams. Chris Kibit (Technology and Applied Sciences, left) established the program three years ago in collaboration with the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency (MARESA).

NMU provides the facilities and faculty—Kibit and adjunct instructor Andrew Sear. Students earn high school elective credits and potentially 10 NMU credits if they have a B or higher average in three subject areas and continue their education at NMU.

 

“The students are committed,” said Kibit. “They show up for two hours a day during the school year and have to arrange their own transportation. Some travel pretty far to join us. They use the same textbooks and material as NMU students and work alongside them in the lab, but don’t attend classes with them. It’s really about developing young people—allowing them to gain practical life skills and employability skills. The added benefit is that if any of these students enroll at NMU after high school, they’re better prepared and are already familiar with our facilities. The program is for juniors and seniors. We had four second-year students this year. They interned for two months at a time in area restaurants and bakeries and served as mentors for first-year students. It was nice leadership development for them.”

Three program participants formed a team that won the Michigan Junior Chef Competition at Michigan State University in May. Their team was among eight finalists selected from 27 entries in a contest to develop a recipe for a healthy school lunch meal featuring both Michigan-grown foods and foods available to schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The team’s winning recipe, which they prepared for the judges at MSU, was a sweet potato burrito with spinach, pinto beans, garlic, red onion and low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It was served on a whole-wheat tortilla with baked cinnamon tortilla chips and a five-fruit salsa on the side.

 

“It’s exhilarating,” said Dagenais, a team member and second-year student, while preparing for the program’s end-of-year showcase dinner in May. “I’ve always enjoyed painting and drawing and I consider cooking an art form, too. It’s a good way to self-express. We get to work with a chef mentor, learn terms and concepts related to the industry and then apply those in the kitchen while learning to work cleanly and safely. I had one of those eureka moments last year when I realized this is where I belong and want to be. So I’ll be starting the program at NMU this fall.”

 

Another team took first place for its pork entry and second in the dessert category at a “Future Chefs” competition held in conjunction with the State of Michigan Chefs’ Challenge at Boyne Mountain.

 

Schools that have been represented in the NMU/MARESA program include Marquette, North Star, Negaunee, Ishpeming, Gwinn, Westwood and Republic.