Two teens wearing chefs hats cook in a competition
Brody McLaughlin (left) and Nicholas Hardy, students at Houlton's Region Two School of Applied Technology, plate their dishes during an April 28 cooking competition at the University of Maine at Orono. The duo took home top honors in the inaugural Local Food Competition for culinary arts students. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Potter

HOULTON, Maine — When it comes to cooking, two students at Houlton’s Region Two School of Applied Technology are the cream of the crop.

Nicholas Hardy and Brody McLaughlin brought home top honors in the inaugural Local Food Competition for CTE Culinary Arts Programs on April 28 at the University of Maine at Orono.

The County duo competed against six other teams from five Maine Career and Technical Education high school culinary arts programs, showcasing their skills in preparing local, seasonal Maine foods. The event helps students learn more about the food industry and the role it can play in supporting Maine agriculture.

The chefs’ instructor, Jennifer Potter, was allowed to help them brainstorm and give directions as they cooked, but had to remain hands-off.

“The pantry was rather limited as all ingredients were grown or made in state,” Potter said. “The students had 30 minutes to come up with a plan and an hour and 15 minutes to cook and plate their dishes. Each plate had to have a protein, a starch and a vegetable component.”

The two young chefs created homemade pasta with marinara sauce and meatballs, with a side salad.

Two chefs judged the competition and some of the criteria they used to make their decisions were how well the teams worked together; their professionalism; presentation; and use of the ingredients.

“The judges were impressed that the boys were able to create, from scratch, homemade pasta, meatballs and a tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes and other ingredients,” Potter said. “They accompanied their meal with a salad of green, with a blueberry vinaigrette dressing that was sweetened with honey.”

At the event, school teams split. While one group cooked, the other group toured the campus, chatted with one of the in-house chefs and had lunch.

Potter said she was extremely proud of her students, considering their undertaking and the competition they were up against.

Both students received a tub of cooking supplies, including an entire set of knives with a butcher block, immersion blender and digital thermometer.

McLaughlin also received a second set of knives as the Chef’s Choice Award for showing calm leadership skills. McLaughlin said it was a great experience and he is looking forward to competing next year.  

Both boys are second-year students and want to pursue careers in the culinary field.

This competition is part of a professional development grant through the University of Maine to help students and instructors to better understand agricultural literacy and how people as an industry can support Maine agriculture.