Young chefs get fired up at Taconic Culinary's Chopped Cooking Competition



Culinary student Keegan Kelly dips her fingers into the basil and parsley mix for a few pinches to dust the aracinis he and his team took so much care in making.

Time ticking away, Kelly hands the completed plate to fellow Taconic High School senior Nick Hassett. He cleans the edges and rushes into the judging area with just minutes to spare, then heads back into the kitchen to help with the next course, grilled salmon with a whole grain mustard sauce.

For the past three weeks, eight teams of seven or eight students at the technical school have been prepping for Wednesday's contest, Taconic Culinary's Chopped Cooking Competition.

Chef and teacher Dan Moon, who had his own team of sophomores, said the simulation of Food Network's popular show "Chopped" gave the students an opportunity to be creative with various dishes and show off their collective passions, while engaging in friendly competition among culinary masters in training.

Like many of the more than 35 students enrolled in the classes at Taconic, 16-year-olds Kate Proudy and Chris Powers already work in kitchens as prep cooks and line chefs.

Proudy said Wednesday's competition allowed them to tackle more complex dishes, but under the challenge of a timed event.

"With this I get to see the process from start to finish," she said. "Typically at work I'm too busy, focused on one thing to prepare what's needed for 50 to 250 of the same dish. Here, I can be part of the all three courses all the way through."

Powers, Proudy and the five other students took the challenge to a new height, the judges said, tackling chicken Florentine served with mashed potato rosettes, and in the middle, a butternut squash puree shaped into a vase with asparagus sprigs sticking out the top.

"It's an impressive dish with a gorgeous presentation," said one of the judges. "It really speaks to the talent of all these kids."

Moon said the response to the contest was so well received, he wants to do another soon.

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