Competitive Cooking at Horizon

by Dan Mullins

“It’s not the end of the world if things go sideways. You can always improvise!” Horizon High student Kyrie Neill-Jensen’s words may seem to be close to universally applicable these days. In this case, however, the student was speaking of her philosophy in the kitchen during the Horizon Student Cooking Competition.

On Wednesday, April 27th, seven Horizon students and one integration aide stepped up to stoves in teams of two, determined to prepare the best dish of the competition. Before that day, however, there had already been a great deal of preparation.

The idea to host a cooking competition for students came about in the aftermath of teacher Mike Nardozza’s recent win on Wall of Chefs. His performance had captured students’ imaginations, so the staff thought it would be a good opportunity to host their own event and live stream it for the entire school to watch.
A team of teachers and staff made it happen. These included Nardozza, teachers Joe D’Intino, Alexandina Anduze, and Louise Pion, special education technician Jennifer Davis, and caretaker Jermaine Ebanks, who D’Intino describes as a central figure at Horizon and in the community.
D’Intino supplied an extra set of hands on the day of the competition, and secured funding through a grant from OSEntreprendre, which covered all the expenses.

There was an educational goal: To expose competitors and viewers to a career path that might be of interestHowever, it also ended up being “a fun event for our spirit week that really brought excitement to our school,” said D’Intino.
Once the groundwork was laid, registration began. Students were invited to apply in teams of two and the committee gave preference to senior students, about 30 of them. The logic was that other students would have a chance to take part in the future.

The selected students and their dishes were as follows:
Simeon and Angela Martino – Fried chicken and waffles
Colton Tomsons and Will Asselin – Pressed chicken and BLT paninis
Kyrie Neill-Jensen and Gwen Jakobi – Poulet Rouge bowls
Kaeden Michlick and Dylan – Shrimp and mushroom risotto
Additionally, Kadisha Suday Allen from the Leadership program helped with photography on the day of the event. For some of the competitors, this was the first time they were cooking for others, while others had some restaurant experience.

The competitors received a budget of $60 per team to buy the ingredients. They provided an ingredient list to the organizers a week before the competition, and the day prior to the event they went to a local supermarket with Nardozza and Davis to do the shopping. “It was like a field trip, it was fun,” remarked Neill-Jensen.
The competition itself took place over two periods. At 11:15 am the students entered the kitchen and got organized before Nardozza started the 50 minute timer, saying “We are starting… now!”

The students got underway, aprons on, utensils in hand. They worked hard, and remarkably collaboratively, during the entire competition.
“Gwen and I work really well together. We live together. We don’t usually disagree, and when we do ,we can always find a compromise. We’re both motivated and competitive,” explained Neill-Jensen about her team.
“I felt excited and competitive. Focused. We wanted to get things done and get them done right.”

There was a frantic last ten minutes as time ran out. When the judges instructed them to stop what they were doing, not everything had gone exactly to plan. Some refried beans were forgotten in an oven, and one team’s dish was missing its waffles. But all the plating was done, and judging began at 12:30, as scheduled.
As almost the entire school watched the Zoom feed, plated dishes were placed in front of judges Nardozza, Anduze and Ebanks. “They’re all foodies,” explained Neill-Jensen appreciatively. The three used a 30 point grid and all six senses to evaluate the culinary creations. Factors weighing heavily in their decision included presentation, flavour, use of spices and “doneness”.

Of course, only one team could win, and in the end, it was the risotto that took the top prize.
Some competitors were disappointed that they couldn’t get their full dish presented, while others were very proud. All were happy to get some guidance and tips on their new passion.
Student reaction suggests that registration will be full for next year’s event.
“I felt satisfied. We’ll settle for 2nd place,” said Neill-Jensen.