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East Meck wins culinary gold, advances to nationals

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  • Meet the team

    John Major: 15, sophomore. Wants to go to culinary school and be a pastry chef. Favorite chef: Paula Deen. Favorite dessert to make: his grandmother’s trove of Italian cookie recipes.

    Bryan Martinez: 18, senior. Wants to go to Johnson & Wales, is in application process. Cooking influence: his Mexican heritage. Favorite chefs: Alton Brown and Anne Burrell. Favorite thing to cook: tenderloins, especially beef.

    Nya Powell: 17, senior. Applying to culinary schools. Wants to be a restaurateur. Favorite chef: Emeril Lagasse. Favorite dish to cook: garlic butter herb chicken breasts.



They finished the romaine salad, the pork chops, the mandarin orange and pineapple parfait, all with 20 minutes left to spare.

And then the East Mecklenburg culinary team won gold for those plates at this year’s N.C. FCCLA Culinary Arts Competition at Johnson & Wales University. They’ll advance to the national contest in July in Nashville. (FCCLA is Family Career and Community Leaders of America.)

The team said their hunger for a win was what propelled them to a strong finish.

“We had to have the drive,” said Nya Powell, a senior. Teammate John Major, a sophomore, agreed: “We were working like our pants were on fire.”

Isabel Bedoya, a sophomore, wasn’t on the culinary team but also took home gold for her career investigation presentation on pastry chefs.

At the competition, teams of three from around the state have an hour to prepare dishes from one menu, chosen from three possibilities. The teams are told in advance all of the recipes, but don’t know until the competition starts which menu will be chosen.

Team members, including senior Bryan Martinez, said their strategy was mainly practicing until achieving perfection, and giving themselves less time than an hour to complete everything during practices.

“It really is a challenge – all of the mathematics and reading and research,” Nya said. “We have to be ready to go.”

Through the competition, they’ve learned more than the basics of cooking: The three encountered new ingredients and techniques, from tarragon to oblique knife cuts.

They’ve also learned each others’ strengths and how to work as a team.

“He’s a natural pastry chef,” Bryan said of John.

“Bryan has the best knife skills you will ever see,” Nya said. Isabel said she learned a lot, not only about pastry chefs but public speaking.

East Mecklenburg has a history of winning this state competition. Last year’s team came in third at the national level. This year’s team is aiming for gold.

“Obviously we have to get together as a team,” Nya said.

“Especially with the new recipes,” John added. “If we are as one, we can definitely be number one in the U.S. of A.”

East Mecklenburg traditionally hosts a dinner to raise money to attend the national competition. Coach Dale Richardson recently broke her hip and said this year’s dinner will not be possible. She asked that people who would normally attend and buy the $30 ticket donate that amount instead.

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @YoungAchCLT
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