Culinary talents earn Seaford student $10,000 scholarship

By Lynn R. Parks

Joshua June wants to own his own restaurant someday. With a $10,000 scholarship to the International Culinary Schools at the Arts Institute, he is well on his way. June, a senior at Seaford High School, won the scholarship in the institute's Best Teen Chef 2009 competition. He placed second in a preliminary round held March 14 at the institute's school in Arlington, Va. Winners in the 34 preliminary rounds will go on to compete for full scholarships. Last Wednesday, June repeated his scholarship-winning performance, preparing a meal of shrimp cocktail, seared chicken breasts, rice pilaf and broccoli in the culinary arts classroom at Seaford High School. He cooked like a pro, smashing garlic as though he has been doing it all his life and turning the ingredients in a frying pan not with a spoon – how ordinary – but by picking the pan up and jerking it to toss its contents. "It's all in the wrist," Josh told ninth-grader Charlyssia Batson, who watched with amazement as sliced onions and garlic came close to sliding out of the pan but never did. Josh is a student in the level two class of the SHS culinary arts program. Teacher Charlotte Vaughn said that he decided to enter the Arts Institute contest after a representative of the school talked to the class. Based on an essay that he wrote, he was selected as one of 12 participants in the competition, which was held at the Arlington school. Six students cooked in the morning and six in the afternoon, Vaughn said. Josh was in the second heat. "They told us what to cook and gave us ingredients," Josh said. "But with those ingredients, they let you put your own twist on it." "Assemble as desired to accentuate [your] creativity," the contest rules said. Josh said that he did several things to distinguish his food from that of the other competitors. First, he put shredded lettuce on a plate as a bed for his shrimp cocktail. Instead of the traditional glass, he used a Roma tomato, its top cut off so that it looked like a crown, to hold the shrimp. For decoration on the finished plate, he rolled tomato skin into a remarkably realistic red rose. These are all tricks that he has learned from Marcus Kranz, head chef at the Seaford Golf and Country Club, where he has worked for two years, Josh said. He also prepared his own sauce for the seared chicken breasts, a mixture of onion, garlic, mushrooms, cream and Dijon mustard.

Prior to the competition, students were provided with a list of the ingredients that they would be given and the foods they were expected to prepare. "When I got there, everyone was talking about how much they had practiced," Josh said. "I hadn't practiced at all and I thought I was going to lose." Each competitor had a preparation area. They all shared one stove, with 12 burners on it. Students had 90 minutes to prepare the food and 15 minutes to put it on the plate and clean up their work areas. Judges for the competition told Josh that he had excellent knife skills. They added that his chicken breasts were a bit dry, something he guarded against when he recreated the meal at Seaford High by monitoring the temperature of the cooking breasts with a meat thermometer, and that the serving of rice pilaf that he put on the plate was too large. On Wednesday, he was careful to put a single serving of rice, measured in an individual glass baking dish, on the plate. Josh said that he had no idea that he would come in second in the contest until the awards ceremony at the end of the day. There to see him receive his medal were his grandmother, Helen June, and his girlfriend, Ashley Messick. Josh credits Ashley, a student at the Salisbury School, with the fact that he is in school at all, much less planning to be a professional chef. A couple years ago, he was threatened with expulsion because of behavior problems. "My family was told either they take me out of school or I would be kicked out," he said. "They took me out, and I realized that I had to straighten up if I wanted to stay with Ashley." At the end of his cooking demonstration on Wednesday, Josh set out two plates of food, one with the shrimp cocktail and the other with the chicken, smothered in his onion-cream sauce, rice and broccoli. In addition to the tomato-skin rose and lettuce chiffonade, the plates were garnished with thin shavings of cucumber skin. "I like art, but I can't draw and I can't paint," Josh said. "Preparing food is a way that I can express myself artistically."

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