By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Mac High gunning for Prostart win

Starla Pointer / News-Register
Cydney Simpson and Erica Johnson put the finishing touches on their team s entree and dessert during a practice.
Starla Pointer / News-Register
Cydney Simpson and Erica Johnson put the finishing touches on their team's entree and dessert during a practice.

Mac High has been competing in the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association competition since 2008, the year it launched its culinary arts program. The school placed a close second last year and has the skills to top the 21-school field this year, according to instructor Carolyn Nyquist.

The team consists of Cydney Simpson, Erica Johnson, Miko Umagat and Meagan Novak, all seniors with lots of experience.

Three are planning careers in food service, Simpson as a chef, Umagat as a pastry chef and Novak as a restaurant manager. Johnson is focused on a career in business or education, relegating cooking to a hobby.

They are being mentored by professional chef Paul Bachand, owner of the Recipe Restaurant in Newberg. He’s even been attending Saturday practices, which start at 7 a.m..

Bachand has been working with team members on their professional skills, menu selection and recipes. He has introduced them to new food and advanced techniques.

Nyquist said the students were intrigued by the idea of cooking a duck breast, even though they had never tasted one. Bachand helped them learn about proper preparation, such as scoring the skin to expose the fat, creating a crisp exterior and intensely flavorful interior, she said.

“I love the duck!” Novak said.

They also learned about ingredients they had never heard of, such as quinoa.

Novak said they originally chose couscous to accompany the duck, but it didn’t give them the texture they wanted. She said Bachand suggested quinoa, a less-well-known grain. which they steamed, then crisped.

The quinoa and duck are parts of an Asian fusion menu the team has been experimenting with for several weeks.

Members must cook three dishes — an appetizer, entrée and dessert — in 60 minutes. They must have everything ready to go at the start, — every ingredient, pan, dish and utensil.

The duck breast will be served as the entrée, with black forbidden rice, a flavorful variety once reserved only for royalty. Umagat said it will be topped with sautéed baby bok choy, julienned carrots and an agrodolce — a sweet and sour sauce.

Their starter course features diver scallops marinated in olive oil and lemon and served raw atop thinly sliced avocado. It’s topped with puffed quinoa, quick pickled peppers and pea shoots.

Simpson said Bachand helped them obtain extremely fresh and high quality scallops that are perfect for the dish.

“It’s like eating sushi,” Simpson said. “I actually prefer them raw, because you get more of the natural flavor.”

Their dessert is a panna cotta infused with green tea and topped with strawberry-pistachio and candied lemon.

In addition to cooking the food, students had to figure out what price they would charge for each dish.

Bachand helped them compute the cost of the ingredients, then add one-third to cover operating costs. They determined the appetizer would sell for $18, the entrée for $19 and the dessert for $8.

Until late January, Nyquist said, members were focusing on one part of the meal or another each practice session. As the state competition approaches, they are making the whole meal to perfect their timing and technique.

On competition day, the Mac High team will demonstrate knife skills in the morning. Its 60-minute cooking time begins at 11:50 a.m.

Spectators can attend the event, to be staged at the Portland Expo Center. For more information, call Nyquist at 503-565-4200.

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