• Elk River culinary artists win first at state contest for fifth time in eight years
by Jim Boyle
Elk River High School culinary arts program brought home first place honors for the fifth time in eight years at state Monday after winning the 2014 Minnesota ProStart Invitational.
Next, it’s on to nationals to compete against teams from across the country May 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis.
A lot of ingredients went into this year’s successful title run, according to Monique Sabby, the family and consumer science teacher at Elk River High School who helps coach the five-member team up until the contest.
It’s part history for a program that teacher Kathy Ellefson established as a shining star before retiring two years ago. It’s part instruction from Sabby, who has 11 years of experience as a food occupations teacher, including one under the tutelage of Ellefson. It’s part coaching from chef Seth Daughtery, of the Institute of Arts, who trained at the Culinary Institute of Arts in Hyde Park, N.Y., who offered up his services to the students throughout the year. It’s part student leadership and drive.
“But the No. 1 thing is passion of these students,” Sabby said of teammates Will Hoff, Ethan Lenertz, Molly Perry, Tori Morgan and Logann Burns.
The process of preparing for state began this past fall when a team was picked and the members began brainstorming what would be on the menu. Once they figured it out, it was practice, practice, practice.
“It means a lot to me to win this contest,” said Ethan Lenertz, who, along with Morgan, also won the knife skills portion of the contest. “It showed that our time and effort paid off, and we hope to do the same at nationals.”
Hoff was the captain of the team, who assessed that last year’s team perhaps got too confident when it only took third. Hoff knew that everyone was doing their part, so he focused on process and procedures. By the time the contest rolled around, Elk River’s culinary arts team was a well-oiled machine.
“Every part of our team played an important role in our menu. From the alternate to the captain, everyone’s work was needed to succeed,” Sabby said. “The culinary program at the high school is phenomenal. It is an honor to work with all of these great people, while learning about the business at the same time.”
The Elk River competitors were as successful keeping things clean and organized as they were creating dishes for the judges. At one point during the contest, they had cleaned up so well, one judge thought they were done. They still had more to do, though.
“We were going for this ever since last year when we didn’t win,” said Hoff, who credited each team member with huge contributions. “We didn’t feel pressure to win. It’s not like Eden Prairie football players that must feel pressure to win year after year. We just wanted it.”
Every year it’s practically a brand new line up with students moving on to college. Hoff is considering a school in Miami to be close to some of the top restaurants in the country and cruise lines. He also considering an option close to home.
He’s learning as much as he can at Elk River High School.
“You learn from ever recipe, even if it turns out like crap,” Hoff said. “You learn what works and what doesn’t.
“You also learn to manage, to do inventory, to make a profit and that the littlest things can hinder profits.”
Not all of Sabby’s students want to be chefs. Some just especially like to eat or cook.
Lenertz plans to enter the engineering program at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.
“As far as culinary goes, I enjoy cooking, and being on the team has given me a lot of experience,” he said. “The skills I have learned will prevent me from eating Ramen noodles and Spaghettios.”
The eighth annual HMEF Sysco ProStart Invitational was sponsored by the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation and Sysco Minnesota. It was held in Mounds View.