Aroostook chefs take top honors in inaugural state competition

HOULTON, Maine — When it comes to cooking, two students at Houlton’s Region Two School of Applied Technology are the crème de la crème.

Nicholas Hardy and Brody McLaughlin took top honors at the first local cooking competition for CTE’s culinary arts programs on April 28 at the University of Maine at Orono.

The county duo competed against six other teams from five Maine Career and Technical Education High School culinary arts programs, showcasing their skills in preparing local and seasonal Maine foods. The event helps students learn more about the food industry and the role it can play in supporting Maine agriculture.

The chefs’ instructor, Jennifer Potter, was allowed to help them think and give instructions as they cooked, but had to remain indifferent.

“The pantry was pretty limited because all the ingredients were grown or made as is,” Potter said. “Students had 30 minutes to develop a plan and 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook and prepare their dishes. Each plate had to have a protein, a starch and a vegetable component.

The two young chefs created homemade pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs, accompanied by a salad.

Brody McLaughlin (left) and Nicholas Hardy won top honors at the inaugural Local Food Contest for CTE’s Culinary Arts Programs on April 28 at the University of Maine at Orono. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Potter

Two chefs judged the competition and some of the criteria they used to make their decisions were how the teams worked together; their professionalism; presentation; and the use of ingredients.

“The judges were impressed that the boys were able to create, from scratch, homemade pasta, meatballs and tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes and other ingredients,” Potter said. “They accompanied their meal with a green salad, with a honey-sweetened blueberry vinaigrette.”

At the event, the school teams separated. While one group cooked, the other group toured the campus, chatted with one of the in-house chefs, and had lunch.

Potter said she was extremely proud of her students, given their business and the competition they faced.

Both students received a pot of cooking utensils, including a full set of knives with a butcher block, an immersion blender and a digital thermometer.

McLaughlin also received a second set of knives as a Chef’s Choice Award for demonstrating composure and leadership. McLaughlin said it was a great experience and he looks forward to competing next year.

Both boys are sophomores and want to pursue careers in the culinary field.

This competition is part of a professional development grant by the University of Maine to help students and instructors better understand agricultural literacy and how people as an industry can support Maine agriculture.

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