Culinary class

Wisconsin Restaurant Association representatives flank Portage High School consumer science teacher Jane Hemming; students Joseph Clemmons, Grace Krejchik and Anna Vitale; and Baraboo chef Mike Althen after the recent competition.

PORTAGE—A culinary arts team from Portage High School took third place in the Wisconsin ProStart competition this month, with help from a Baraboo chef.

The school also won “Best Beef Entrée” from the Wisconsin Beef Council, the only “extra” award given at the competition held in Milwaukee, family and consumer science teacher Jane Hemming reported.

Portage was the second-smallest high school to compete out of 22. The team was also one of the smallest in the competition at three members: seniors Joseph Clemmons and Grace Krejchik and sophomore Anna Vitale.

By finishing in the top three, each member was offered scholarship opportunities valued at $6,000 from various schools.

“They really came together and worked hard,” Hemming said, noting the team’s success came down to expert communication. “They were so nervous before the competition, but then they just got focused and did what they needed to do.”

Hemming invited Mike Althen of Elite Catering to serve as a mentor several years ago. He works with the students weekly.

“I assist the students in developing the menu (attached along with the competition guidelines to follow), developing the recipes, costing out the recipes, setting the selling prices and practicing their knife skills,” Althen said.

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He’d like to see a similar program established in Baraboo and at other area high schools. “The opportunities are almost limitless,” Althen said.

Though Krejchik is the only team member not pursuing a career in the culinary arts — she wants a career in occupational therapy — she is still eligible for a $6,000 scholarship if she minors in culinary arts, she said.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity, and if people are looking to go into the culinary field they should get into (this program in high school),” she said.

For the judges the team prepared an entrée of bacon-wrapped, smoked top-butt sirloin of beef with a black raspberry glaze. They also prepared an appetizer of lake perch and a dessert of “clafoutis brulee.”

In the menu, Hemming said, the biggest challenges were smoking the beef and the bacon wrap, overseen by Clemmons, who has aims to become an executive chef.

“You have to pull it really tight and make sure it’s not too thick so it doesn’t fall off,” Hemming said of the wrap. As for smoking the beef, timing is everything. “If it’s undercooked or overcooked, it’s not good.”

“This year was the best group of young go-getters I have had to work with to date,” Althen said. “I projected prior the event that we would be in the top five.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau