When 33 teams of culinary students from secondary schools across Kansas gathered at the Airport Hilton last week for the ProStart competition, the atmosphere crackled with youthful excitement and energy.
The teams competed for top honors and an opportunity to head to national competition. The Kansas ProStart Student Invitational, sponsored by the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association and the Educational Foundation, showcases young culinary talent and future restaurant and food service leaders.
Although I was there as one of the judges, I must confess I was excited, too. Having once been a ProStart teacher, I was aware of the enormous effort students and teachers devote to this event and knew expectations were riding high.
Students participated in one of three categories. Teams participating in the culinary competition demonstrated their abilities by preparing a three-course meal in 60 minutes while being observed and rated by industry professionals.
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Teams participating in the management competition demonstrated their communication skills and knowledge by presenting a business proposal for a new restaurant concept, which included a floor plan, menu and marketing strategies.
Teams participating in the edible centerpiece designed a creative centerpiece utilizing fruits and vegetables.
Each competitive event was evaluated by a roster of judges consisting of restaurant and hotel chefs, food service owners and operators, and culinary instructors from Kansas State University, Johnson County Community College and the Art Institute.
As I looked at the panel of 29 professionals who had agreed to judge this event and share their expertise, I wondered if they realized the impact they were making. In essence, top chefs were mentoring aspiring chefs. What a wonderful opportunity for both.
The first question today deals with artisan breads.
I enjoy the crusty artisan breads but they don't stay fresh very long. What is the best way to store them?
Artisan breads do stale very quickly as they lack additives that keep commercial breads fresh. Actually, they are best eaten the day they are baked. To help preserve freshness, store artisan breads in a paper bag rather than plastic; plastic holds in all the moisture, causing the crusty texture to become soft and spongy instead of crisp. However, the bread can be freshened by reheating in a moderate oven for a few minutes.
A stale, unsliced loaf can be revived by quickly dipping in water, and placing it on the oven rack of a preheated 400-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes. The time will depend upon the size of the loaf. A baguette will heat more quickly than a round loaf.
Some recipes call for fresh bread crumbs. How do you make them?
Fresh bread crumbs are soft and may be made very quickly in a blender or food processor. Tear bread into pieces and place it in a blender or food processor and blend until crumbs form. Most blenders will accommodate one slice of bread at a time. A food processor fitted with the metal blade will be able to handle a half-bowl of bread pieces.