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Winning culinary entry wins $500 scholarship
Student Chef Ann Drum cooked up the top burger Tuesday afternoon to win a $500 scholarship from Police Chief Nick Obligacion in a cook-off at the MUVA Culinary Arts Academy. The three students in the center Skyllar Bilbo, Elizabeth Shaffer and Brian Burns all received $50 scholarships for their participation in the event in the school kitchen adjacent to the school district offices on Louise Avenue near Airport Way. Obligacion served as a judge in the competition as did Clara Schmiedt, left, and Ernies Restaurant head Chef Mike Midgley. - photo by GLENN KAHL

It was a culinary test of skills determining who could make the best hamburger that would be taste tempting to the pallets of a school district administrator, a police chief and the chef of a fine dining restaurant.

Six student chefs from the Manteca Unified Venture Academy School of Culinary Arts were personally chosen to compete for a $500 Chief’s Foundation scholarship offered by Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion.  The some 20 students attending the charter school venture academy, based at the school district campus, were asked to write essays about their passions for preparing foods for their café customers and their participation with their independent study efforts in the process.

Chief Obligacion selected the six competitors, saying they had all done a great job with their essays about the culinary arts academy and their future aspirations.

Just after the lunch hour concluded on Tuesday and their small café had emptied out, the student chefs began their cooking competition.  It was then they learned what the unknown secret ingredients would be that they had to include in the “Burger Cook-Off.”

It was peanut butter and jelly.

Looking at each other in disbelief, the six students took to the counters and burners on a time limit dash and with a deadline of 1:45 as they scurried around their stainless steel kitchen like their lives depended on their skills and accuracy – pacing themselves to keep the mistakes at a minimum.

The three judges, Chief Nick Obligacion, School District Director of Secondary Education Clara Schmiedt, and the head chef from Ernie’s Fine Dining restaurant, Mike Midgley, wandered through the kitchen keeping their eyes on the activity.

The students appeared completely focused even though they were surrounded by curious onlookers in their kitchen.  They answered questions but they never took their eyes away from what they were doing, remaining somewhat stoic but friendly and courteous, despite what might have been seen as unpleasant interruptions.

Academy Chef Bryan Ehrenholm monitored the students as they cut up vegetables and cooked their hamburgers with the imaginative skills of seasoned chefs themselves.  Ehrenholm had brought stainless steel bowls of vegetables from carrots to potatoes and cucumbers for his students to draw from in their quest.

Each of the six had their own idea of just how to incorporate the peanut butter and jelly additions to bring a greater taste to their hamburgers – and add it a for the judges’ palates.  Several students made floral pieces out of vegetables from pineapples to cucumbers and carrots displaying their imaginative skills.

The students – one at a time – presented their plates where the judges were seated at a table in the café just outside the kitchen.  Elizabeth Shaffer even included a strawberry smoothie with her burger – complete with three red straws – one for each of the judges in her plan for a three-way-test.

The judging was so close that Ehrenholm suggested to the three judges that there was need for a recount of the scores that declared Ann Drum the winner of the cook-off and the recipient of the $500 scholarship award.  The five runners-up each received a $50 scholarship for their participation in the event.

“I am here because of what you have done already,” the chief said. “There was something real good about each of the burgers,” he added.  Obligacion said he got the idea about the culinary arts student scholarship following a presentation at the noon Manteca Rotary Club meeting by the students and their instructor several weeks ago.

The students have been in the program since the beginning of school last August.

The MUVA Culinary Arts Academy is currently in search of interested juniors from the comprehensive high schools in the district to apply to be considered for the program with the beginning of the next school year in August. 

The academy is being made up of just upper classmen – juniors and seniors.  After two years in the academy, most students will graduate not only with a traditional diploma, but also with trade skills that will take them into culinary art institute’s across the country as well as to jobs in regional and Bay Area restaurants.

Several members of the present staff have already been researching culinary institutes on the East Coast and in the Bay Area with them as well as taking online courses from those schools this semester.