Kaiserslautern High School culinary team prepping for nationals, raising trip funds

by Ikea Simmonds Kaiserslautern High School
Courtesy of Shutterstock
Courtesy of Shutterstock

Slicing through last month’s competition in Europe has earned the Kaiserslautern High School culinary team a spot at the national competition April 18 to 20 in Anaheim, California.
“It feels good knowing their hard work has paid off,” said Andrew Dager, the school’s culinary arts teacher, known simply as “chef” around campus. “The kids worked three months, so to see them win is a great feeling.”
At the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe culinary competition, held Feb. 24 to 26 at the KHS classroom kitchen, the team’s mouth-watering dishes enticed the judges and earned them a ticket to nationals.
The national competition is an annual event hosted by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. This year, it will be held at the famed amusement park, Disneyland. It’s a chance for the champions from 48 different states, including DODDS-E winners, to compete on the national stage for scholarships.
“You’ll see a number of higher-level cooking techniques being used at the national competition, so they really have to step up their game to compete,” Dager said.
Team captain Tara Gentz and her four teammates, Jacob Caballero, Quatia Thompson, Charlie Thalmann and Miles Richardson, have been doing a lot of prepping since their big DODDS-E win — honing knife skills, tweaking their menu and closely mimicking the kitchen environment they expect to encounter at nationals.
“We set up the kitchen how it will be at nationals. You have to cook exclusively on tables,” Gentz said. “You get two butane burning grills instead of a stove, and you don’t have running water, so we are learning to use buckets.”
Like a sports team practicing for a championship game, the team has increased its hours in the kitchen, often running through their culinary routines as much as three times a day — in class, during seminar and after school. With the extra hours, the team is becoming a tighter unit.
“We are like family. You get to cook together and learn things, and then you feel like you have a talent in the world,” Gentz said.
Traveling to Disneyland will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these five extraordinary young cooks. The trip does, however, come with a hefty price tag — more than $12,000, given the cost of plane tickets for students and chaperones, hotel reservations, daily meals, equipment and food for the competition.
“Having only a month to earn funds is really putting us under the wire. If anybody wants to donate, they can contact the high school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization or myself,” Dager said.
For more information on the KHS culinary program and how to help get the team to Disneyland, contact Andrew Dager at 489-7300 or 0631-536-7300.