Culinary students compete for menu spot

January 29, 2019
Northwest Career and Technical Academy culinary arts instructor chef Lyle Hildahl laughs Tuesday as his students are briefed by the judges after the first day of sandwich competition at the school in Mount Vernon.

MOUNT VERNON — The heat was on this week for students in the Northwest Career and Technical Academy’s culinary program as they chopped, sautéed and toasted their way to a perfect sandwich.

Working in teams, the students have spent the past several weeks planning, prepping and testing their sandwich creations in an effort to be featured on the menu at Whidbey Coffee.

“You have no idea what this means to the kids,” program instructor chef Lyle Hildahl told a group of Whidbey Coffee employees who will have the final say in choosing a sandwich.

Twelve teams started the competition, and by the end two were selected by the judges to be the best.

Whidbey Coffee owner Dan Ollis said the company had been looking for a way to partner with the culinary program, and this seemed like the perfect fit.

“Our team is always thinking about sandwiches,” Ollis said.

A component of the culinary program includes partnering with local businesses such as Whidbey Coffee, Hildahl said.

“I hope that they can see their efforts day to day have an application,” Ollis said. “This is such a cool opportunity to work with the school. It’s inspiring.”

During the competition, students had to use ingredients available through Whidbey Coffee’s suppliers and determine the cost of making the sandwiches, how long they would take to make and what the company could sell them for to make a profit.

“Somehow, we’ve got to connect these high school kids to the world of work in a way that they see value in working hard,” Hildahl said. “It’s an opportunity to connect the kids to the world of business, particularly when it comes to hospitality.”

Many of the students also demonstrated their knowledge of the company and why they thought their creations would be a good fit.

Fifteen-year-old Kadin Stevens said his sandwich, called the spicy clubhouse, takes 90 seconds to assemble, making it a good fit for people wanting to grab a quick bite while shopping near the Burlington cafe.

“My sandwich is a sandwich that, when you order it, you’re going to be happy,” he told the judges.

Kadin, a sophomore at Cap Sante High School in Anacortes, said he has a passion for food.

When he was 7, he said he would watch YouTube videos to learn how to cook the perfect egg.

“(Cooking) is kind of an art for me,” he said.

While his goal is to get into the world of fine dining, he said he enjoyed taking part in the sandwich contest because of the simplicity.

“A lot of simple things can be the best thing in the world,” he said.

He said his sandwich was a take on a classic with toasted white bread, deli turkey, bacon, spicy sriracha sauce and iceberg lettuce for crunch.

“I used that because it gives it a nice mouthfeel,” he said of the lettuce.

Whidbey Coffee Regional Manager Leah Norton-Gaudreau, one of the competition’s judges, said the company generally gets its ideas for new food offerings from staff or customers.

“After today’s presentation, I would hire any of you,” she told the students.

After the final round of judging, the two sandwiches chosen to be featured on the company’s menu were a pesto pepper jack bagel sandwich with turkey and bacon, and a pita sandwich with turkey, bacon, feta and provolone cheese.

Ollis said the sandwiches will be featured on the menu at each of the company’s three sit-down cafes: one in Burlington and two in Oak Harbor.

The first sandwich will appear on the menu Feb. 4, with the next being featured the following month.

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