Cooking Tips from Top Teen Chefs
A passion for cooking at a young age
-The Betty Editors
After placing first in local-level cook offs, 34 high school seniors nationwide recently put their culinary skills to the test during The Art Institutes Best Teen Chef Final Round Competition in Charlotte, N.C. Each finalist was given two hours to prepare a southern-inspired menu of curly endive salad with bacon and poached egg, oyster stew and catfish with a creative garnish. The teens were judged on cleanliness, taste, presentation and more by a judging panel of culinary professionals, including Paula DaSilva, an Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale alum and season five finalist on Hell’s Kitchen. In all, more than $200,000 in tuition scholarships were awarded.
Betty recently sat down with this year’s Best Teen Chef, Sammy Jo Claussen of Kansas City, Kan., second-place winner Kaitlyn McKissick of Olathe, Kan. and third-place winner Oscar Melendez of Los Angeles to get the skinny on the competition, their passion for cooking and more.
BC: What do you love most about creating in the kitchen?
Sammy Jo: It allows me to bring out my creativity and try new things. It’s that process of ‘creating’ that is the most fun.
Kaitlyn: When creating food, you never lose. Sometimes coming up with new ideas can lead to not-so-great flavor combinations, but that’s the great thing about cooking. It is creative, and you’ll always find something that you love and is comforting.
Oscar: In the kitchen, I never stop learning. I also love the fact that I can let my imagination go wild and create extravagant dishes to impress my fellow tasters and family.
BC: I’m cooking dinner for my boss. What should I serve to make a great impression?
Sammy Jo: Try a thick-top sirloin steak. Add to that new potatoes with herbs, some sautéed green beans and mushrooms with a nice glass of wine. You’ll make quite an impression.
Kaitlyn: Well, if you are looking for something savory, this chicken dish called chicken maribella, found in the Silver Palate Cookbook, is a must for a great impression: chicken breasts and legs in red wine, green olives, stuffed with dates…YUM! And for something sweet, I recommend macaroons; you can flavor them in any way you like, in any color, and with any nut. What’s simpler than whipped egg whites, flour, flavoring, color, and chopped nuts? Love them!
Oscar: I would prepare a four-course meal. As an appetizer, I would serve a pan-seared California halibut. Next course would be a curly endive salad with bacon and poached egg. For the entrée, I would serve a breast of chicken Farci roasted on the bone. Finally for dessert, I would serve a banana butterscotch pie with tutti-frutti ice cream.
BC: What about presentation-any tips to keep in mind?
Sammy Jo: Be colorful; don’t clutter the plate. Keep it simple.
Kaitlyn: For a nice presentation, always keep simplicity in mind. Think color, texture and height as well. People love to see visual textures with food and love bright, almost unnatural colors because they are fun!
Oscar: I recommend being as creative and clean as possible. Clean up is also very important.
BC: Any tips you can share for cooking a meal when you’re short on time?
Sammy Jo: Pastas are very easy. Also, if you have the time during another part of the week, make a bigger batch of whatever you’re cooking, freeze it, then thaw and serve when needed.
Kaitlyn: Well, my favorite game to play when I’m short on time is: what can I make with what is in the fridge? Typically, I will make some sort of noodle salad, loaded with vegetables, beans and a quick vinaigrette. Another favorite is rice, loaded with vegetables and a quick peanut or sesame sauce.
Oscar: I suggest making a simple chicken dish. It’s easy to make and can be very delicious!
BC: What’s the best part of placing in the Best Teen Chef Competition top three?
Sammy Jo: Two things are equally important. First there is the pride that comes from winning the Best Teen Chef Competition, and then there is the relief that comes from not having to worry about paying for college. I’m very thankful to The Art Institutes for allowing me to further my education.
Kaitlyn: The best part about placing in Best Teen Chef is that I have the satisfaction of knowing that I did it all by myself-not as a team, just me. I love that I had enough bravery to go into the unknown and come out on top!
Oscar: The best part is the recognition I received for my hard work, and of course the experience of competing in a national competition. Nothing is more satisfying than competing with others who share my same passion for culinary arts.
For more information on The Art Institutes Best Teen Chef Competion, visit www.artinstitutes.edu.