The road to victory for Frontier High School seniors Gabriel Palacio and Xavier Sharpe was paved with baby fennel, lentils, starfruit and more. The pair won the second annual MISD Chopped North Texas culinary competition.
The two out-cooked 15 other teams from the Metroplex on Wednesday at the Mansfield ISD Center for Performing Arts. Like the Food Network show, student cooks had to make dishes using four secret ingredients. The contest started with an appetizer round, and teams that survived made it on to cook an entree. The final four teams made dessert.
Palacio said their strategy for the competition was to keep it simple.
“We did things outside of the box, but things we were comfortable with,” he said.
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In their appetizer round, Palacio and Sharpe made a wonton dish with secret ingredients ground buffalo, dried peaches, baby fennel and cremini mushrooms. Their crusted pork tenderloin entree featured black garlic, lentils and collard greens. They capped their first place finish with a cheesecake-inspired dessert that included starfruit, avocado, Earl Grey tea leaves and coconut milk.
Adair Smith, one of the culinary teachers at Ben Barber Career Tech Academy, first brought the competition format to the classroom and after seeing positive results decided to expand it to a larger event last year.
“This is how they learn to cook, by putting them on the spot,” he said. “This is all about the student and all about them doing all to show off their skills.”
Frontier High School represented the Mansfield district, but students from the Fort Worth, Burleson, Keller and DeSoto districts participated as well.
Palacio said the pair’s chemistry and experience together allowed them to cook with confidence.
“We work really well together,” he after their victory. “We’re used to doing things on the fly.”
During the final minutes of the appetizer round, Sharpe went to fry the wontons only to discover the fryer was not on. In a minute the two quickly poured oil into a pan and fried the appetizers.
Judges included food critic Mario Tarradell, Mansfield Fire Chief Barry Bondurant, Mansfield councilman Brent Newsom and restauranteur Mico Rodriguez, owner of Mesero and Mr Mesero in Dallas.
“It is inspiring for me,” Rodriguez said about the event. “There’s so much talent out there.”
When the judges gave feedback on the Frontier duo’s food, Sharpe said it reminded him of why he loves cooking.
“I enjoy the reactions,” he said. “That hits me right in the heart.”
The two plan to attend the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio this fall.
Palacio said cooking is the only thing he can imagine doing for the rest of his life.
“It keeps me happy, it keeps me passionate,” he said.
Dustin L. Dangli, 817-390-7770