Two Murphy culinary students and one from Vigor took first-place honors at Mobile County Public Schools’ FCCLA Beef, Pork and Peanut cooking competition on Wednesday at Murphy.
Murphy’s Jessica Byers and Kendall Adams-Young won the beef and pork categories, respectively, while Vigor’s Jala Napier won the Peanut category.
Competitors from high schools around the county developed and prepared their dishes beforehand, heating and plating them on-site for judging. A panel of judges that included local chefs, and culinary educators graded each dish on taste, presentation, nutritional value, ease of preparation and adherence to ServSafe guidelines for the preparation and serving of food.
“Being here today judging this is really cool, because you’re seeing the high school youth get elevated with their level of cooking, technique, cuisine,” said Pete Blohme, chef and owner of Panini Pete’s Café, one of the judges. “When I was in high school, we had Home Ec, which was like three-bean salad and coffee cake. Even though I was working in restaurants, learning some basic skills, we weren’t cooking at this level.”
Students placing in the top three of each category won cash prizes. Also placing were: Sebastian Elfarkh of Davidson (second) and Sarah Catherine Deck of Baker (third) in Beef; Beyounce Johnson of Vigor (second) and Kaden Kramer of Baker (third) in Pork; and Taylor Houze of Baker (second) and Emari Moore of Davidson (third) in Peanut.
Byers and Young will now move on to state competitions in the Beef and Pork categories. There is no state competition in the Peanut category.
Adams-Young said he was inspired by his mother to start cooking. “My mom can cook really, really well – her food tastes amazing – so I wanted to beat my mom,” he said. “I’m trying to get to her level.”
Byers said she has cooked at home for a long time, and is currently taking dual enrollment courses with Bishop State Community College. She plans to go to Bishop State after graduation, to continue her education at South Alabama, and ultimately to become a chef.
Even so, she said winning the Beef competition took her by surprise. “I actually wanted to cry,” she said.
The competition is sponsored by the Mobile County Farmers Federation’s Women’s Leadership Committee, and committee chair Debbie Freeland was on hand to present the awards.
“This (competition) has been going on for about 12 years now in Mobile County so every year, the bar gets raised a little bit more,” said Allen Merryman, Career and Technical Education Supervisor for Mobile County Public Schools.