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Student chefs compete in their own, on-camera version of Chopped

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Junior Farah Abu-Khater, sophomore Madeline Casey and sophomore Gabe Jensen participated in a cooking competition hosted by celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan at Tualatin High School.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Celebrity Chef Maneet Chauhan talks about her experiences being a chef during a cooking competition at Tualatin High School.Tualatin High School might just get its moment on reality television.

The cameras were pointed at the school’s Culinary Arts program on Tuesday, when chef Maneet Chauhan — a judge on the Food Network’s wildly successful show “Chopped” — chose TuHS as a special stop on her Cutting Edge Tour.

Chauhan, known as a proponent of culinary education, is promoting her new book, “Flavors of My World.” Along the way, she decided to visit schools that use the ProStart curriculum.

“The National Restaurant Association realized about 15 years ago there was a major decline” in the industry, explained Heidi Larson, who has taught ProStart curriculum for five years at TuHS. “They went through the backdoor of a lot of dying home economics classes and breathed new life into them through ProStart.”

As on “Chopped,” three competing students were asked to prepare a meal in front of an audience. But unlike the reality show, this competition did not ask them to work with mystery ingredients — only to quickly, and expertly, prepare a meal that fits the theme of “modern American cuisine.”

Larson held a cook-off last month to determine which of her students would compete in Chauhan’s challenge. Sophomore Madeline Casey made it into the competition on the strength of her healthy fried chicken: a lemon-breaded, pan-fried chicken breast with garlic aioli sauce. Sophomore Gabriel Jensen presented an Asian-style turkey “taco” using lettuce in place of a hard shell. Junior Farah Abu-Khaten took perhaps the simplest American classic of all — a grilled-cheese sandwich and tomato soup — and gave it a twist with butternut squash, curry and garlic mayo.

For more information about the Tualatin High School Culinary Arts program, visit its page at facebook.com.
The three students then practiced their specialties before the competition with Larson and mentor chef Andrea Phillips.

The day of the competition, their classroom was transformed into a studio of sorts, with each contestant at his or her own station when the cameras started rolling. Casey, Jensen and Abu-Khaten labored in front of a live audience of about 70 teachers, parents and fellow students.

They had an hour to prep and execute their dishes, which were then judged by Phillips, the book’s co-author Doug Singer and Chauhan.

Judges considered not only taste and presentation, but also the nutrition of each offering, Larson said.

In the end, the judges chose Abu-Khaten’s dish as the winner.

Larson called it “an opportunity of a lifetime,” explaining that Abu-Khaten would receive a set of Gunter Wilhelm knives and be put in the running against 15 other such winners from ProStart schools Chauhan visits across the country. The national winner will have the opportunity

to cook with Vice President Joe Biden's executive chefs in Washington, D.C., this June.

“I wish I could retire after today,” Larson joked. “It was on my bucket list, having someone from the Food Network in my classroom!”

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