Whitney High's student chefs prep for state competition

By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
-A +A

The members of Whitney High School’s culinary competition team know more about julienning, blanching, roasting and sautéing than most people twice their age.

That’s because the team, under the direction of Carissa McCrory, spends hours each week learning every aspect of gourmet cooking. In March, the team will head to Pasadena to compete against teams from all over the state in the California ProStart Culinary Cup.
“You have an hour to cook – to do two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts,” explained junior Mariana Avila, who competed last year.
Besides the time constraints, there are even bigger challenges – four students per team compete in a 10-by-10-foot space with no electricity, cooking on Bunsen burners.
Last year, the Whitney team took seventh place out of 25 teams competing in Sacramento. Their menu included smoked salmon, asparagus flan, butter-poached shrimp and an elk dish, and for dessert they prepared a mascarpone mousse layered cake with a white chocolate band around it.
Team captain Jordan Marchbanks said 50 judges from allover the United States will participate, judging the teams on quality, teamwork, sanitation and overall perfection.
“Considering three-fourths of us competed last year, we’re not going to be as nervous going into it,” Marchbanks said. “All those nerves have gone away. I think we have a good chance.”
The teams aren’t just competing for bragging rights. At stake in the ProStart cup are several scholarships to top-tier culinary schools, including Le Cordon Bleu.
McCrory teaches three culinary classes at Whitney in addition to serving as adviser to the culinary club and culinary competition team. She said culinary club students get together to prepare and enjoy meals with internationally inspired menus, including Thai, German and Italian. Students also hone their technical skills, such as practicing complex knife cuts over and over until they’re perfected.
Junior Morgan Budd said she practices her cuts as a volunteer at Rocklin’s Star Eco Station, where she cuts all the food for the animals. Budd also oversees the pricing aspect of competition, where the students include prices on the menu that must realistically reflect the cost of preparing the food.
“If it was astronomically high, would you want to buy it?” she asked. “We have to put in value, restaurant costs and additional costs for seasonings, just to make sure that you know where your food is coming from and that you did all the math.”
With those types of skills, McCrory explained, entering the culinary field is a viable career option.
“If you make the right choices and get on the right path, you can go somewhere really amazing with this,” she said.
The team is helped by mentor chefs, in particular Diane Schafer of Dreams in Sugar Bakery, who volunteers her time to help the students train for the competition. McCrory said the team always welcomes guest  professional chefs who can teach and inspire the gourmet chefs of tomorrow.
The team plans to focus on the farm-to-table movement at ProStart, preparing food from ingredients found within 100 miles of Placer County. Once they have their menu selected, they’ll spend the next several months preparing the food until they have it down pat. Even if they know the menu well enough to prepare it blindfolded, Marchbanks said, there will still be problems that arise during the competition that the students must be prepared to face.
“There are so many emotions all year,” he said. “It’s insane. There are so many times that you disagree, but in the end it’s so worth it.”
“Every year, I’m just so proud of these guys,” McCrory beamed. “What-ever expectations I have for them, they are always right there doing what needs to be done, and they always make me cry.”
Culinary classes
Learn how to prepare a meal with Chef Carissa McCrory, assisted by Whitney High School culinary competition team members.
When: 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays
Where: Whitney High School, Room F-9, 701 Wildcat Blvd.
Cost: $25/class; fundraiser for students to compete in ProStart culinary competition (12 and over only)
Registration and info: or 632-6500, extension 6671. Learn more about the team at
Nov. 13: Pies and Tarts. Prepare the perfect pie crust, pastry cream pie with fresh fruit, lemon tart and pumpkin cheesecake. 
Dec. 4: Sushi. Prepare basic rolls with cooked and raw seafood, including Wild Cat Roll with broiled salmon, cucumber, cream cheese, green onions and homemade sriracha sauce.
Dec. 11: Holiday Entertaining. Prepare crispy prosciutto cups with pears, marinated bocconcini, crisp wontons with cream cheese and chutney and baked brie.