Soldiers help students prepare for competition

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Temple High School students are learning tips and techniques from the Fort Hood Culinary Arts Team as they prepare for competition this week.

Temple culinary arts students will head to the Waco Convention Center Friday for the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Culinary Arts Competition for the Texas Association.

“I am just really proud of them,” culinary arts teacher Margaret Fyffe said. “They have really stepped up and have hung in there.”

A dozen Temple High students will be going up against 23 schools in their region, which includes the Dallas area and East Texas. Last year the students placed sixth.

“I am excited for them,” Fyffe said. “I think they are going to do well. They have been very receptive to suggestions and critiques.”

Soldiers have been in class with the students for the past couple of weeks and spending as long as four hours a day refining the students’ already impressive skills in the kitchen.

“The soldiers are sharing their experiences with competition,” Fyffe said. “So they are teaching these kids tricks of the trade.”

Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Francious, culinary manager for the III Corps and Fort Hood Culinary Arts Team, said he is highly impressed with the students’ level of knowledge for their age.

“When I was in high school, all we had was home economics,” Francious said. “We didn’t have anything of this caliber. This is awesome.”

Francious worked closely with senior Xavier Baker as he gave him tips on plating the pan-seared chicken with a velouté sauce, seasoned mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans they finished cooking.

“They are really helping us a lot,” Baker said. “Last year, we made it far, but not as far as we wanted and now we have this big opportunity.”

Francious said he is confident the students will perform very well at competition, considering how they did last year.

“Now that they have a more experienced eye to assist in their guidance and they have learned a lot of the basics in culinary,” he said. “We are teaching them plating skills, which is extremely important when you are in a competition.”

Fyffe said she is very grateful to soldiers for lending their knowledge to her students.

“They are volunteering their time to come here and spend the times with the kids and are not asking for anything in return,” Fyffe said. “The kids really love it and get excited when they see them. They are like part of our family now.”

Spc. James Munar said he is surprised with the high school’s culinary kitchen and setup.

“I didn’t have this when I was in high school,” Munar said. “Before I joined the military, I didn’t have that much skill, but seeing them have this in high school they already have a lot of that knowledge. Of course we are here to help them tweak their skills, but they already know so much.”

Munar said one of the biggest things he is reinforcing with the students is the importance of being organized and having a clean work station. He believes the students will place in the top five at competition.

Francious said the students possess all the right qualities that will help them succeed at competition and every day.

“Their attention to detail and willingness to learn,” he said. “They are definitely focused on getting this.”

Senior Sierra Fillmore said she is relieved that the soldiers have helped her with plating and presentation.

“Now that I have my plating down, I am excited,” Fillmore said. “I am creative, but it was my biggest worry because I am just not used to it.”

“I always tell them,” Francious said. “Even if you do not win a competition it’s just the idea of gaining experience and knowledge from attending a competition — because you can always get better.”