Center Grove students head to state culinary competition this weekend

Eight Center Grove students are heading to a state competition this weekend to compete in a hospitality skills competition.

They make it look easy, but a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes for students to earn a spot in the Skills USA Indiana competition, said Chef Susanne Ebacher-Grier.

Students Caiden LaFever, Noah Mathers, Devin McCormick, Brady Richards, Grayson (Ray) Roberts, Kelsey Schaffer, Mehakpreet Sidhu and Ella Carroll will head to the SkillsUSA Indiana competition for Baking and Pastry, Restaurant Service, Culinary Arts and Wedding Cake Design.

It takes a lot of time for Grier, but the difference she sees in the students makes it worth it. Students spend their Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. practicing for the competition. Grier often sees students building confidence and learning problem-solving skills while practicing, she said. The state competition allows students to hone in on technical skills because of the set rules and parameters of the competition, she said.

She likes to call it her own organized chaos, she joked.

“It takes a lot,” Grier said. “You have to practice on your own … You have to have that dedication. If you are all in, I’m all in.”

At the competition, students will have four hours to complete the tasks in their contest. During practice, Grier gives them three and a half hours. She wants her students to make all of their mistakes before the competition so they have the necessary skills to problem solve and adapt when competition time comes around.

For senior Ray Roberts, who won the state championship last year in Baking and Pastry, it’s a lot of cake scraping and practicing whenever they can. Over the summer, Roberts spent every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. practicing for the 2023 national competition.

Roberts enjoys seeing the tangible progression of their skills from their first cake to now. Being “food motivated” helps too, of course, Roberts joked.

For the baking and pastry portion of the competition, students have multiple tasks to complete. They will have four hours to decorate a pre-made cake, make yeast rolls, a traditional pan loaf, shortbread cookies and a braid loaf.

Completing all of the tasks in time takes planning and organizing beforehand. Grier requires her students to make production sheets, a sheet that time blocks each task. Making a production sheet is like a game of Tetris, Roberts said.

“It’s a lot of inner working things and if one thing gets derailed, it’s kinda the whole thing gets derailed,” Roberts said. “It’s just a lot of little pieces you have to keep on top of each other.”

Students also take an exam that counts towards their final score to make sure they are knowledgeable in general health and safety rules.

The competition has helped Roberts gain confidence and be more assertive and they are already thinking of things to do differently at this year’s competition, they said.

Roberts hopes to move on to the national competition again this year.

For the wedding cake decorating contest, students must build and decorate a three-tiered batter-based cake suitable for a wedding. Students are evaluated on general skills such as sanitation, production efficiency personal hygiene and grooming and the final product.

For the Restaurant Service contest, students will have three hours to complete three sets of tasks including table setup and service, napkin folds and table side service.

The 2024 SkillsUSA Indiana Championships will be held April 19 and April 20 at Ivy Tech, 2801 N Meridian St.