OGHS culinary team takes first place, looks to state competition

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The Oak Grove High School Culinary Arts team made a reservation for the state competition in the first-ever state Junior Chef title after capturing first in the Central Division among five other teams Tuesday with its “Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos.”

OGHS hosted the Central Mississippi “Savor the Flavor of Mississippi” competition Monday and Tuesday featuring six of the state’s 15 participating schools, with awards of scholarships up to $16,000 for each team member. State winners who qualify to go to regional competition can earn full tuition and fees for each student – valued at $45,000-55,000 – to Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.

Oak Grove culinary teacher Debbie Miller said she was excited about winning the Central Mississippi competition, which was sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition.

“This is something new to Mississippi,” she said. “Not everybody is participating because the turnaround is so quick. … The turnaround was so quick that we didn’t get a chance to practice, practice, practice as we like to. We will do that after we get back from fall break several times because I want the kids to be confident in what they are doing.”

Oak Grove was fortunate to be the host for one of the three state regions. In addition to host Oak Grove, other schools that competed in the Central Region were (in order of finish) Wayne County, Hinds Community College team "Against the Grain," Hattiesburg, Rankin, Hinds Community College team C.H.E.F. The state competition will be held in Raymond at the FFA Center.

Miller said hosting the district competition was both stressful and an opportunity to show off the school’s assets.

“I want other schools to see how we do things,” she said. “I want show the pride in our district and our school and I want to show what is provided for my students. Every student that came through was amazed at our kitchen; our students take very good care of it. They take pride in their kitchen. They take ownership in it; it’s theirs. I’m that we could; I’m glad that we had the facilities because not all schools have the space to offer competition.”

The competition had three teams competing at the same times. Judges walked among the teams while they cooked, critiquing them on safety, sanitation, knife skills and temperature.

Because the competition is Mississippi-based, teams used at least two Mississippi products. The Oak Grove team used five Mississippi ingredients, the maximum allowed for extra points in the competition.

“Students also have to eat this,” Miller said. “If we win (at state), it will go on every school cafeteria’s menu.”

Miller said the team – which is composed of Michael Clark, Brinkley Davis, Joana Martinez, Donovan Reid and alternate Daniela Lopez – has been working on their individual assignments.

“I’ve got a little Hispanic girl who made fresh tortillas,” she said. “I have a young man who cooked the chicken. I have a young lady who made the slaw. And one person is making the seasoning and the salsa.”

The availability of ingredients in the cafeteria is mandatory.

“We had to use a commodity from the cafeteria,” Miller said. “We’re using cheese and the chicken is also one of their commodities. They have to reproduce it. They can mass produce, they can order the tortillas in mass volume and the salsa is also a commodity item.”

State winners receive $16,000 in scholarship money for each first-place team member, followed by $12,000 for second place and $8,000 for third place. In the regional competition, besides the free tuition and fees for the top team, second-place finishers will receive $47,000 each, while third place wins $20,000 each.