TOP CHEFS: Cooking contest heats up Eagle Tech

COLUMBIA CITY — War was waged at Eagle Tech Academy Friday — a cooking war, that is.Sophomore Spanish students at ETA participated in a cooking competition that not only brought out creative dishes, but creative learning as well. Seventeen teams fought for the honor of “Top Chef.” Several of the classrooms were converted into mini, make-shift eateries, as students prepared and served dishes from Spanish-speaking countries.“I like to cook. This gave me a chance to try different recipes and do something different,” said Dylan Dalton regarding his team’s Spanish-inspired dish. “We could learn how to speak Spanish in the classroom, but we wouldn’t have the chance to actually taste it if it wasn’t for projects like this.”Each team decided on a country to represent, created a menu with foods typically found in their chosen country and worked together to cook the dishes.“I learned everything about our country while making this meal,” said Gunner Bills. He and his teammates made a bacon-wrapped chicken entree that required some ethnic ingredients not easily found at the grocery store.“It just so happened that we needed tamarind, which is like a seed pod. The pulp was needed for the sauce in our dish, “ said Alex Walters. “I asked one of the people at the grocery store if they had it. They had just ordered some that they were keeping in the back.”In addition to cooking the dishes, teams had to purchase the ingredients and shop for the items needed.“Going shopping was the best part,” said Riley Coons. “We learned how to buy what we needed on a budget and substitute ingredients that we couldn’t find or that were too expensive.”A panel of judges was formed to taste each dish and critique the teams on areas such as presentation, customer service, food quality and cultural knowledge.“I was always afraid of presenting and talking to people I didn’t know,” said Taylor Gorski. “Doing projects like this makes me more confident and gives me the courage to speak in front of groups.”Nancy Beyhan, a Spanish teacher at ETA, was instrumental in arranging the cooking competition.“This gives the students a chance to do something fun while learning about all these different countries,” Beyhan said. “Plus, the kids get so excited for these kinds of projects. I think it really lets them have pride in their work.”Derek Hufferd was a part of a team that decided on a sports-themed restaurant, The Fifth Meal. He said the group collaboration gave them a chance to work within their own individual strengths.“These projects teach us teamwork. We have to agree on different things and accomplish a big task without a whole lot of disagreements,” Hufferd said. “In the end, we came up with a really unique idea and we were able to make it our own while learning about another country.”