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Teams in Junior Chef Competition learn life lessons

August 7, 2018

After serving 15 years for aggravated robbery committed when he was 19, one former prisoner is now a professional chef.

Milas Williams graduated from culinary school four years after his release in 2014. Today, chef Williams is praised by law enforcement, community leaders and culinary experts for seeking education and giving back to the community.

Williams, a San Antonio native, sponsored the second annual Junior Chef Competition last month at Wagner High School. The competition featured two two-member teams of students — Team On Fire and Team No Smoke. Each team was overseen by an executive chef and a sous chef.

In keeping with the event’s cultural theme, lively Latin and Brazilian music played as teams kept up a quick pace for the timed food preparation.

Several of the competitors said they learned about this program on Facebook and submitted videos demonstrating their potential. Beside the ability to cook, participation requirements include the skill to explain each step in the cooking process; proper food service protocol; sanitation and the proper handling of knives; and the ability to speak knowledgeably for print and television interviews.

The challenge required the two teams to open a mystery box of ingredients and prepare a two-course meal from scratch.

A panel of five judges tasted one team’s dessert made with egg mango sauce, pecans, cinnamon and peppers. It received mixed reviews. The second course was more conventional, but with a twist: grilled, baked and steamed chicken, with seared bananas, watermelon and rice, covered with leftover dessert sauce.

“It was a weird combination, and it tasted great!” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a panel judge for the competition.

Before entering the police academy 25 years ago, Salazar worked as a bartender, and he said he spent plenty of time in the kitchen. One of his reasons for participating as a judge, Salazar said, was that he’d like for young people to see the friendly side of law enforcement and for officers to see each child as an individual.

Though culinary skills were not required to serve as a judge, Bexar County Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert said his experience in banquet service came in handy.

“Extracurriculars were very formative to my professional life down the road,” Calvert said. “These kinds of ‘beyond the school door’ opportunities are life-changing.”

Calvert strongly supports Williams, now 34, as he rebuilds his life.

Tears fell for one of the junior chefs after Williams presented her with a family heirloom. During the competition, Cherish Piper received inspiration as she donned the apron of her late grandfather, who was a chef for 40 years.

“I was shocked when I was given his apron,” said Cherish Piper, a first-year culinary arts student at St. Philip’s College. “It made me a lot less nervous.”

Elisha Molina, a 17-year-old Sam Houston High School student, said he was not fazed when told of his mentor’s criminal background.

“I always say the past makes you the person you are now,” Molina said. “You could fix the mistakes you have made now and make yourself a better person.

“He has done a couple of bad things in the past. He’s changed. He is giving young chefs the opportunity to showcase our talent,” Molina said.

Williams said the young competitors will gain more than just cooking experience.

“Culinary is not just about cooking,” Williams said. “They will take the discipline they learn from here. You have to be able to communicate, you have to be able to have teamwork, and you have to know who can handle pressure and who can’t in the kitchen.

“Our life and these youth’s lives are like a recipe. You have to have the right type of measurement, the right type of ingredient to have a perfect life,” he added.

Williams hopes to take his Junior Chef Competition to the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center.

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