Some meals take months to plan.
That’s been the case for five A-B Tech students who have spent five months chalking out a four-course meal to take to the National American Culinary Federation competition in Orlando on Aug. 2-5.
“We’ve all put in the time and the work to get to where we are and to be able to go to a national stage,” team captain Josh Waters said. “We know that we’re all going to put forth our best effort.”
Waters, Michael Welsh, Emmer Moraza, Patricia Santibañez and Roman Nourse, who are at various stages of A-B Tech’s two-year culinary program, are the school’s 12th team to make it to the cooking competition. No other culinary programs in the country have made it to the competition that many times, A-B Tech spokesperson Kerri Glover said.
A-B Tech won the competition in 2007.
Though the official meal planning began only a few months ago, the students have been brainstorming the meal for more than a year.
The national competition was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so some of the members of last year’s team, such as Welsh, stayed on this year and carried over ideas.
“We kind of picked some pieces from (last year’s) plate and brought it over,” Welsh said.
They were chosen by instructor and chef Chris Bugher.
“With everything that’s happened over the past year, they’ve had to overcome more than any other team,” Bugher said. “It’s different because they haven’t competed before … so they’re walking into this doing it for the first time. They have more challenges ahead of them, but they’re well on their way.”
They meet weekly to cook the meal, which they couldn’t disclose details about in order to preserve the competition.
The result of weekly practice and two years of planning is a meal the students call refined — complete with a fish appetizer, salad, entree and dessert.
“It’s the technical side of what elements we have on the plate, just how advanced each thing is,” Welsh said. “The amount of technical skill you have to have to pull it off, it’s all very refined.”
Each competing team is creating a regional meal featuring cuisine from their respective areas, Glover said. And A-B Tech’s dishes are not only cloaked in Western North Carolina, they’re also reflective of each individual student’s style.
Santibañez said she tried to include decorations on her baked goods that resembled an “S” for her last name.
“None of us could have done any of it without each individual person putting that work in to figure it out,” Waters said.
Aside from creating an elaborate meal from scratch, the group has also developed deep friendships and an intense appreciation for their culinary training.
“The amount of different opportunities that are outside of the kitchen that these degrees still apply to, there’s so many different routes you can take without having to cook on the line. That’s where I think our brains are expanding and reaching out,” Welsh said.
And some of the students have already ventured out to explore other culinary avenues. Santibañez, who graduated from A-B Tech in May 2021, is currently working at a vineyard.
Combining their multifaceted degrees with the knowledge and experience of competing for a national title, they said, is the next step to establishing themselves in the world of cooking and beyond.
“I know that there’s so many different routes for me to take and different trade skills that I have to just have fun and be happy and successful,” Welsh said.