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Newport High culinary arts team turns restaurant-quality cuisine into sport

Newport instructor Tracy Green and The Golf Club at Newcastle Executive Chef Jesse Olsen help Fiona Lee change out the butane cylinder on a burner during a recent culinary arts team practice. - Daniel Nash
Newport instructor Tracy Green and The Golf Club at Newcastle Executive Chef Jesse Olsen help Fiona Lee change out the butane cylinder on a burner during a recent culinary arts team practice.
— image credit: Daniel Nash

While some students her age might be more apt to follow the careers of Marshawn Lynch or Russell Wilson, Newport senior Fiona Lee has her eyes on Pierre Hermé.

Don’t recognize the name?

Hermé — dubbed “The Picasso of Pastry” by French Vogue — is a French pastry chef known for his distinctive macarons. Perhaps not the traditional role model for a teen, but a perfect one for Lee, who wishes to become a French pastry chef herself.

“I’m probably going to go to Renton Technical College first, then I’d like to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York,” she said.

Lee has gotten an early start, competing on Newport High School’s ProStart culinary arts team as an alternate. Think of it as the restaurant industry’s version of prep sports: teams are tasked with preparing a three-course meal to restaurant standard in one hour’s time — in Newport’s case, a rack of lamb, crab bisque with avocado, potato risotto and other mouthwatering dishes.

While they try to ensure their final product outdoes their peers’, judges also watch the processes that get them to the finish line, including hygiene standards, knife skills and teamwork.

The Newport High School culinary arts team took fourth place at the Boyd’s Coffee ProStart Invitational, held Sunday in eastern Washington’s Spokane Valley.

Three days beforehand, Lee was preparing a tuile in The Golf Club at Newcastle. Nearby, Executive Chef Jesse Olsen’s ears perked up at Lee’s comment about her future.

“You want to go to the Culinary Institute?” he said. “I didn’t know that. Good for you, that’s a good school.”

Olsen is a former colleague of Newport culinary arts instructor Tracy Green — they worked together at the Four Seasons — and makes himself available as a mentor for her class. He had worked with the culinary arts team in their own kitchen, and loaned out the Club kitchen for one practice in an unfamiliar space before they moved on to the invitational.

“If they do need to tweak anything, it’s better to do it out in the real world,” he said.

“The students wrote the menu and Jesse came in and looked over it,” Green said. “He was really great about posing questions that would let the kids arrive at the answer, without telling them the answer himself.”

 

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