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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 weekendâ€™s 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.
â€śThey didnâ€™t place,â€ť says Linda Soderberg, deputy director of the Exeter Job Corps Academy, â€śbut 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€ť
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.
â€śThe level of competing young adults was amazing,â€ť says Soderberg. â€śThe 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€ť
â€śWe did great,â€ť adds team leader Joseph. â€śEverybody worked together under pressure and we pulled it out.â€ť
Braun, who prepared the side dishes, notes, the judges â€śloved the rabes and said they had great flavor.â€ť In another contest to separate a whole chicken, Braun finished the challenge in four minutes, 12 seconds.
â€śI guess it was a record,â€ť he explains. â€śThey said they had never seen a chicken application like mine.â€ť
Teammate McClinton, in charge of roasting the pork, didnâ€™t fare as well.
â€śThey said it was good but it didnâ€™t have enough flavor. They said New England people like bland food.â€ť
For salad specialist Strait the trip was a milestone: it was her first plane ride.
â€śIt was good,â€ť she says. â€śI didnâ€™t like the takeoff or landing.â€ť
While the Job Corps competitors donâ€™t 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.
â€śIt was a very high-end competition,â€ť Soderberg notes. â€śWeâ€™d never been so we werenâ€™t sure [what to expect]. Weâ€™re starting to work already on what weâ€™re going to do for next yearâ€™s competition.â€ť