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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â The Job Corps team of top culinary students who won the right to represent Rhode Island in last weekendâs prestigious National ProStart competition in Baltimore, Md. â the only group in the country from the federal program to be selected â may not have earned medals but they returned home victorious nonetheless.
âThey didnât place,â says Linda Soderberg, deputy director of the Exeter Job Corps Academy, âbut I can tell you it was an incredible opportunity. It was a massive undertaking; 42 states and two territories, Guam and Puerto Rico, were represented. It was pretty intense.â
The Exeter team comprised Cassie-Lee Joseph, of the Bronx, N.Y., who was team leader; Gary W. Braun, of Dudley, Mass.; Justin McClinton of Lynn, Mass.; and Krystal L. Straight, of Glenfield, N.Y., for whom the trip was a first-ever airplane ride.
In the state contest, held Feb. 16 at the Radisson Hotel, in Warwick, the student chefs â each producing an element of the menu â prepared a salad of warm almond-crusted, pan-seared brie with mesclun greens and raspberry vinaigrette, pork loin scaloppini with dried cranberries, apple demi-glaze, sweet potato puree and broccoli rabe.
Dessert was a chocolate raspberry hazelnut torte.
Having won scholarships in their earlier triumph, team members replicated the fare in Baltimore.
âThe level of competing young adults was amazing,â says Soderberg. âThe president of National ProStart said they were all winners to make it to this level. The quality of the menus was on a CafĂ© Nuevo [the upscale Providence restaurant] level. They did well.â
âWe did great,â adds team leader Joseph. âEverybody worked together under pressure and we pulled it out.â
Braun, who prepared the side dishes, notes, the judges âloved the rabes and said they had great flavor.â In another contest to separate a whole chicken, Braun finished the challenge in four minutes, 12 seconds.
âI guess it was a record,â he explains. âThey said they had never seen a chicken application like mine.â
Teammate McClinton, in charge of roasting the pork, didnât fare as well.
âThey said it was good but it didnât have enough flavor. They said New England people like bland food.â
For salad specialist Strait the trip was a milestone: it was her first plane ride.
âIt was good,â she says. âI didnât like the takeoff or landing.â
While the Job Corps competitors donât yet know their place in the final standings, the top culinary team was from Kansas and the top lodging team â a category in which Rhode Island had no entry â represented Tennessee.
âIt was a very high-end competition,â Soderberg notes. âWeâd never been so we werenât sure [what to expect]. Weâre starting to work already on what weâre going to do for next yearâs competition.â