By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER – The Job Corps team of top culinary students who won the right to represent Rhode Island in last weekend’s prestigious National ProStart competition in Baltimore, Md. – the only group in the country from the federal program to be selected – may not have earned medals but they returned home victorious nonetheless.
“They didn’t place,” says Linda Soderberg, deputy director of the Exeter Job Corps Academy, “but 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.”
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 – each producing an element of the menu – 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.
“The level of competing young adults was amazing,” says Soderberg. “The president of National ProStart said they were all winners to make it to this level. The quality of the menus was on a Café Nuevo [the upscale Providence restaurant] level. They did well.”
“We did great,” adds team leader Joseph. “Everybody worked together under pressure and we pulled it out.”
Braun, who prepared the side dishes, notes, the judges “loved the rabes and said they had great flavor.” In another contest to separate a whole chicken, Braun finished the challenge in four minutes, 12 seconds.
“I guess it was a record,” he explains. “They said they had never seen a chicken application like mine.”
Teammate McClinton, in charge of roasting the pork, didn’t fare as well.
“They said it was good but it didn’t have enough flavor. They said New England people like bland food.”
For salad specialist Strait the trip was a milestone: it was her first plane ride.
“It was good,” she says. “I didn’t like the takeoff or landing.”
While the Job Corps competitors don’t yet know their place in the final standings, the top culinary team was from Kansas and the top lodging team – a category in which Rhode Island had no entry – represented Tennessee.
“It was a very high-end competition,” Soderberg notes. “We’d never been so we weren’t sure [what to expect]. We’re starting to work already on what we’re going to do for next year’s competition.”