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Students Cook Up a Win as Chef Adair Smith's Cleburne "Chopped" Champions

Cayden Applegate and Richard Sorenson spent two weeks of their summer vacation cooking their way to becoming Cleburne High School Chef Adair Smith’s “Chopped Champions.”

                The Smith seventh grader and CHS freshman were among 28 participants in the CHS Culinary Arts Summer Cooking Camp for Kids, open to students who had just completed grades 6-8. Under the guidance of Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Smith and his advanced student sous chefs, participants utilized the high school’s industry-standard restaurant kitchen and equipment.

Instruction began with the four basic knife skills as students began concocting a variety of dishes--pizza from scratch to crepes. Maintaining cleanliness in the kitchen was included in the culinary instruction; campers ended each day addressing their workspaces, sweeping up and loading the industry-standard dishwasher.

                A Camper of the Day was announced at the end of each morning session, coupled with a critique of each cook’s finished product. Each day focused on a new recipe, as students built and expanded their skills and cooking confidence. On their final day of camp, teams of two were challenged to create two dishes to be sampled by judges, using a specific set of ingredients—in a timed competition.

                “You could say this was the Cleburne Culinary Arts version of ‘Chopped,’” Smith said. “They had 90 minutes to create an appetizer and a dessert. Their parents were invited to The Sting Bistro to serve as our audience as the teams presented their dishes to the judges. Our panelists determined the winning entries judged on execution, appearance and taste. The campers also had to discuss what went into creating their dishes and be prepared to answer questions.”

                “I thought this would be a fun way to showcase what they had learned—and they surprised me,” he said. “This was the first kid’s cooking camp I’ve done in Cleburne since joining the high school faculty. Out of all the cooking camps I’ve ever sponsored, these kids showed a level of teamwork and effort that is the best I’ve ever seen. They worked so fast during class, I would have to come up with additional things for them to do. They were great.”

                In their cooking challenge, each team had to include an Idaho potato and dried bowtie pasta in their appetizer entry and nutmeg and a Granny Smith apple in making a dessert.

                Applegate and Sorenson created mac and cheese—with a side of “Happy Face Fries” for their appetizer, with apple crepes and a peanut butter garnish sprinkled with powdered sugar for dessert.

                “We had just learned how to make mac and cheese, so we thought that would be good,” Applegate said. “We learned about the different ways to slice a potato, depending on what you wanted to make. We cut ours into circles—like faces—then cut out eyes and big smiles and fried them. We just thought of it.”

                “When we made crepes, I had used these same ingredients,” he said. “I placed third when they were judged in class, so I thought it would be good to go with that again for the contest.”

                Sorenson says he wanted to take the summer cooking camp to give him an idea about the culinary arts program at CHS.

                “I like to cook,” he said. “I also wanted to see what culinary arts was like since I was going to be starting high school. I didn’t think we would win. I just thought the other teams would be doing more. I think the Happy Face Fries made a real impression on the judges.”

                Mark McClure, director of Career and Technical Education, which includes the culinary arts program, said every dish created by the cooking campers was impressive.

                “I don’t think we, as judges, have the talents these kids do,” he said. “I struggled to find the words in critiquing their dishes—how many ways can you say ‘I like that, this was really good!’”

                Parents in attendance at the Cleburne Chopped contest gave five stars to the two weeks their children spent in the culinary camp, including Belen Morgan, who had two daughters enrolled.

                “They were excited to be the first to go to this camp, and to learn from a professional chef,” Morgan said. “They liked working with the high school sous chefs. They also enjoyed learning culinary skills, especially the knife cutting and techniques and taking a potato down to French fries. Working in an actual restaurant kitchen was really neat to them—and they made new friends.”

                “They had taught themselves to cook, having been remote learners last year,” she said. “One of the first things they did when they came home from a session was to serve up a pizza using a recipe they created. This was a really good opportunity for them and a super great experience.”

                Eric Bishop said his eighth grader was excited for the chance to build on the cooking skills he’s already developed.

                “Carter cooks at home—we are Food Network fans,” Bishop said. “He jumped on the chance to take this camp. Everything he brought home was delicious. I think it was good that the kids were engaged in the whole cooking process, including cleanup. Carter has more confidence in the kitchen with what he has learned. Now he wants to be a part of the culinary program when he gets to the high school.”

                Applegate, who has also done a little cooking, quickly agreed to the camp when approached by his mother.

                “At home I have helped cook breakfast and spaghetti, and it’s always fun,” he said. “When my mom asked if I wanted to do this I said yes. I’ve learned a whole lot--but the best part of camp was winning Chopped.”