After taking first place in a local competition, three students from Canyon Del Oro High School are going to represent Arizona in the Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) National Culinary Arts Competition.
In March, CDO seniors Royce Schlittenhart, Sabrina Denney, and Edythe Palting each won a $1,000 scholarship to Johnson and Wales University. In addition, Palting won a $20,000 scholarship to the Le Cordon Blue Culinary Institute.
Last week, the students began practicing for the national competition, which will be held in Orlando, from July 6 to July 12.
Schlittenhart, who works as a line cook at Acacia, took to preparing the main course, an herbed apple-glazed chicken. Right now, he is content with trying different elements in the culinary industry, because he doesn’t really know what he wants to do after college. Schlittenhart plans to go to Johnson and Wales University, where he won a four-year, full-academic tuition scholarship.
“There are so many possibilities out there that I am not sure yet,” he said. “During college I would like to start working at a resort, or somewhere that I can move up. Somewhere that has opportunities. Or maybe get an apprenticeship somewhere.”
Schlittenhart loves to cook for other people, but not necessarily for himself. Last week for breakfast he had some read-to-eat waffles.
“Part of being a culinarian is you have to give up a lot of food,” he said. “You don’t eat when everyone else does. You skip meals because you are cooking for them. That has been one of the hardest things. When you get done with work you are so exhausted that sometimes a bowl of cereal is the best thing.”
Back in the classroom, Palting is working on a carrot, cilantro and chile slaw. She feels confident for the national competition just as she was for local competition.
“We got this,” she said.
In competition, the judging is scrupulous as they are very particular about how the students hold their knives and the size of the pieces they cut, as well as how well they work as a team and sanitize their work stations throughout the meals they prepare.
These are all elements that Palting is also practicing as she works as a line cook at the Cheesecake Factory.
But Palting didn’t pick up a knife and pan one day and began cooking. It began at home with her younger brother, Theo.
“We would come home after school and he never wanted to make food or he didn’t know how,” Palting said. “I would be like, ‘Oh, I’ll do it!’ It was just so fun, you make a mess and your parents clean up after you. “But now, you have to clean up after yourself.” She laughed.
“Even when I was little I had my kitchen set up in my room and I wanted the Barbie Kitchen. I always wanted to be in the kitchen.”
In preparation for nationals, Denney is in the CDO culinary arts kitchen working on golden delicious apple and cheddar turnovers with dried cranberries.
For her, before cooking, she was interested more in art, and not culinary arts. She liked working with clay along with drawing.
“I was watching the food network and saw the cakes and stuff,” Palting said. “I thought there are some great pieces of art on those shows. I am a practical person and thought ‘I am not going anywhere if I just do art.’ This is the perfect outlet where I can get a real job, and a real career and still do what I love.”
As the three seniors come together to plate their food, instructor Nick Meitner takes notice to the amount of work they put into practicing and preparing for competitions. He sees they are working at school, but he is aware of the cooking they do outside of the classroom.
“It helps them tremendously to win these competition because they know what’s expected of them,” Meitner said.
Meitner’s students have seen past graduates get full and partial scholarships, which reminded them that with hard work, they too could get financial support for college through scholarships.