PHOENIX - On Saturday, teams from four Valley high schools competed in the inaugural Teen Cook-Off competition at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival to win scholarship money to attend culinary school.
Teams from Camelback, Chaparral, Paradise Valley and Pinnacle high schools each pulled out their best recipes, flavor-pairings and techniques to impress three judges during three rounds of competition.
The judges (photographed below) were chefs John Corey (left), Anthony Serrano (middle) and James Holman (right).
Pinnacle High School's Cheyenne Lee and Makenzie Davidson took round 1, defeating teams from Chaparral and Camelback.
Paradise Valley's Jared Witte and Jacob Degiuli won round 2 defeating second teams from Chaparral and Camelback, although Camelback's team was named runner-up and also moved on to the finals.
During each round, the teams had 45 minutes to create, cook and plate an appetizer and a main dish for the three judges while friends, family and festival-goers watched minute by minute from the audience.
The stage at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts was transformed into a miniature version of the elaborate kitchen sets you see on similar television competitions. The teams had their own cook top, prep station, cutlery and ingredients. Behind them was a larger kitchen set with a shared refrigerator and ovens.
In the final round, the teams had to create an appetizer and a main dish, but a "mystery protein" was introduced right before the competition began. Lamb was not the main focus of the entree and instead of a plate, a pineapple had to be the dish's vessel.
The atmosphere at times was tense. The only noise heard from the stage was the occasional blender turning on, pan moving on and off the cook-top or slight whisper of strategy between the teams. The judges also provided some insight into what the teams were preparing or offered a bit of advice if a particular item looked overdone.
"I think a lot of it is presentation. We eat with our eyes first. And then, of course, flavor," said Corey on what he was looking for as a judge. Chef Serrano added in the importance of making sure the final dish included all the elements required.
"A lot of the students believed that they learn by recipe, but a recipe is basically just a guideline. It's master the techniques," said judge Holman, who is now retired, but used to teach with the culinary program at Scottsdale Community College.
In the end, it was Pinnacle High School's team that came out on top with a shrimp cake with jicama slaw and chili-lime sauce appetizer and seared lamb with chimichurri sauce and mashed potatoes.
"So many emotions, overwhelmed. Excited. Everything," said Makenzie Davidson, a junior at Pinnacle High School.
When lamb was announced as the protein, the team said they were prepared because it was one of the options they had prepped for.
Both hope to continue their culinary studies and become chefs. Davidson prefers Asian flavors in her food, while teammate Cheyenne Lee prefers home style cooking.
Each received a $2,500 scholarship to apply toward attending culinary school, a $250 gift card to Whole Foods and a blender.