DRUMMOND – In just days the Drummond Culinary Team will be on the clock, preparing a meal they’ve been perfecting for most of the school year.
That meal will be presented at the Montana ProStart Competition March 7-8 in Bozeman at Gallatin College. This year’s team is the most experienced that Coaches Tina Wetsch and Brent Parker have ever sent to the competition, with all four participants having been part of the squad that placed second in 2018. The 2019 contingent consists of Riley Allen, Gabbi Kempf, Rachel Gesel and Nate Brashear.
“I think it allows us to advance ourselves a little,” reflected Parker of his experienced team, who’s been with the program since its inception at Drummond in 2009. “We don’t have to teach the kids what the competition is or the procedures. It allows them to focus more on their meal rather on that so much. I think they take some confidence into the competition.”
Montana’s ProStart program has grown significantly, jumping from 250 students in 2018 to more than 2,000 in 2019. Not all schools send teams to the state competition that sported a record high seven last year that has jumped to as many as 14 for this year’s event.
Brashear bears possibly the toughest assignment of the four. Originally the team’s manager – who helps keep the others on time and helps with any recipe information – Brashear was asked to step in and help Gesel with the appetizer when another team member stepped away from the program. Friday’s practice session was his first full run through in a competition setting, but Brashear seems ready to take on the challenge.
“If feels good to get out and do something,” he said of the opportunity. “Sports are out for me, but it’s good to find something I can do and be part of another team.”
Brashear was part of the two-time state champion Flint Creek Titans football team from 2017-2018, but only got to play in one game due to a devastating elbow injury in his first game of 2017. He stayed on with the team and helped in whatever way he could.
When asked about stepping in to fill a void last second, Brashear replied, “I’m pretty comfortable with it. I’ve been paying close attention to the recipes so I’m good and relaxed with it.”
Like Brashear, Allen is now channeling his sports skills into the culinary field. Should Drummond win the state competition as they did in 2017, Allen will lay claim to his third state championship at the prep level in the last two years.
Allen is the architect of the team’s main dish, a blackened Alaskan Salmon dish. After working with beef a year ago, he wanted a new challenge.
“We did the steak last year and I wanted to do something different. I spent a lot of time looking up fish recipes, and we took parts of different recipes and combined them. I got a lot of help from Ms. Wetsch and Chef Brent and then kind of mentored me along.”
Having been to the mountain top twice on the grid iron, Allen knows how to prepare for what’s coming next week. “Knowing what competition is like, I’ll be more confident. Last year we went in and did our best and didn’t know what to expect and it didn’t really turn out how we wanted it. This year I’m feeling really confident that we can win it.”
New for 2019 will be Drummond competing in the Management side of the event. Montana ProStart made it a compulsory part of the competition this year and will see as many as 14 teams taking part.
In addition to their appetizer and dessert dishes, Kempf and Gesel will make the team’s Management presentation – the first ever for the local team.
“You can get really good knowledge of the food industry and the hospitality aspect of it,” said Kempf. “Plus there are a lot of scholarships out there if you’re interested in going into the culinary or business aspect of the industry.
“I’m not too worried about the speaking part. I know the stuff and I think that will go pretty smoothly. I feel like we have a good concept going and that we’ve gone above some of their expectations.”
The duo has created a mock restaurant based on a scenario given them by the ProStart competition. They’ve had to design it from the floor up – from the menu and decor to the marketing and demographics. ProStart doesn’t give competitors a lot of guidance, encouraging them to think outside the box.
“Everything is very broad,” observed Gesel, who joined Kempf midway into the process. “You don’t know if you’re going the right way or the wrong way and you don’t know what they’ll be particular about. You just have to play it by gut.”
Coaches Wetsch and Parker guide the Drummond program, leading it to a Montana state title and a spot in the ProStart nationals in 2017. Drummond has lost a number of practice sessions recently with its basketball teams going into divisional tournaments and a number of cancelled or shortened days due to snow. But Wetsch is confident her would-be chefs are up to the challenge.
“(It’s) not really concerning to me at this time,” she said. “The last time we practiced we finished 15 minutes early. We had Deer Lodge’s team here watching and I don’t know if they had some nervous energy or something. We’ve practiced a lot more this year using Fridays until we got to (basketball) tournaments. I’m feeling fairly good and we haven’t gone over time yet.” When asked what she and her team have learned over the years of competition, Wetsch responded with, “We’ve become more organized every single year. What we’ve done and what we’ve seen other teams do, like the racks that we put under our tables; Just things that make it as timely as possible.”