Dan Cepeda, Caspar Star-Tribune, Associated Press
CASPER, Wyo. — Like salty and sweet taste together on your palate, there was a mix of Food Network and Comedy Central occurring at Glenrock High School on a recent morning.
"Some schools have state-of-the-art kitchens, and we cook in a sewing room on plastic tables," said Patrick Hopper.
Hopper and Candace Stoll are the mentor/coaches of the school's ProStart Culinary and Restaurant Management teams, each of which won the state championship in Casper earlier this month.
Six weeks from the day of their victories, they will leave for the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore. It will cost each of the eight students $1,200.
As senior Gina Byrd finally steps away from her propane burner, where she's been blackening buffalo tips for the Blackened Cajun Surf & Turf appetizer.
"It's so hot in here!" she said.
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the sewing room," Hopper deadpans.
Three years ago, an all-male chef team from Glenrock High School won the state competition and paid $700 apiece to get to San Diego for nationals.
This year, the cost has increased, as have the number of students the small Converse County community is asked to support.
Parents are organizing a fundraiser for 5:30 p.m., April 3, at the high school.
Admission is one canned good item per attendee.
"We want them to give back to the community that is so awesome in supporting us," Stoll said. "So the food will go to the food bank here in Glenrock."
At the fundraiser, attendees may watch the culinary team prepare its competitive menu, and then taste it. Competitive baking students will serve homemade treats, and the restaurant management team will organize and serve a salsa bar.
A variety of donated items, including many Wyoming trips donated by the Wyoming Lodging & Restaurant Association, will be auctioned.
The four top individual or corporate donors will have their names embroidered on the chef's jackets for the national competition.
ProStart restaurant management involves planning every step of the business from location and hours to decor and menu.
Senior Nathan Hansen serves as captain of the team and "owner" of The Golden Crescendo, which promises "dining and dancing bundled into one great experience." The restaurant's decor is centered on a gold grand piano, and there is room for dancing as well as live music.
Breanna Farley, a junior, is the restaurant's general manager.
The menu includes beef, chicken, lobster and fish entrees, and the wow dessert is Four Seasons Panna Cotta, which will feature different in-season fruits.
Junior Lane Blakely is front of house manager, and Shannon Van Antwerp is the executive chef. Her folks need to fork over $2,400 in the next four weeks, because her brother, Tyler, is the captain of the culinary team and cooks the duck a l'orange entree.
The team must use a Power Point and story board for its nine-minute presentation. It may not use "advanced" electronics such as tablets.
"We hadn't practiced very much before state, and we were really nervous," Blakely said.
"We thought it went well, but then at feedback, the judges thought our board was too busy and that's what we were most confident on, so then we got worried," said Shannon Van Antwerp.
"We're going to completely revamp the email section of our board, so there aren't as many long pieces of just words, and we're going to back the gold paper with red to make it pop," Farley said.
The quartet wants The Golden Crescendo to be "a social dining experience worth remembering," with a target market of folks 35 to 57. Their restaurant can seat 236 patrons at once and has a minimum number of freezers, instead opting for using "the freshest product at all times."
The Facebook marketing campaign will include coupons for 10 percent off the bill or a free dessert for "Liking" the page, and there will be a rotating cycle of coupons for each email campaign as well.
The team received 29 points out of a maximum 30 at the state competition.
Over in the sewing room, the culinary team goes through its preparation another time. They have one hour to prepare a four-course meal with two propane burners. All ingredients, including coolers and water, must be carried in.
Byrd's dish has created some angst. Originally promoted and prepared as "Blackened Cajun," a judge at state thought the spices were a bit too bold. But regular salt and pepper on Monday did not do the job blackening the buffalo, and while very tasty, Byrd and Hopper were unhappy with the results.
"We're going back to spicy," Hopper said.
Raider Nelson prepares the two accompaniments for the entree, buttery herbed polenta and curry fried brussels sprouts, while Tyler Van Antwerp prepares the pan-seared duck and constantly barks out inquiries and encouragement to his team members. He is also the keeper of the timers, notifying Kori Taylor how much time she has left, as well as the rest of the team.
Taylor oils balloons, inflates them, then makes chocolate marbled teacups by swirling liquid white and dark chocolate over the bottoms and up the sides of the inflated balloons. When the chocolate is hardened, she takes a pair of scissors, deflates the balloon and then with the deftness of a surgeon, uses silicone-tipped tweezers to pull the balloon out of the chocolate cup.
The cup is then filled with raspberry mousse and an amazing culinary/chemistry feat of raspberry juice and chemicals that results in molecular raspberry caviar, which tastes like raspberries but has the consistency of small balls of caviar.
Just another March Monday morning in Glenrock.