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Up-And-Coming Chefs Get Chance To Show Their Chops In Culinary Face-Off

Through a large window, three people watch student chefs work at a chef's table, inside a room full of cooking equipment.
Family members watch eagerly while the student chefs from Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, L.A. Mission College, and L.A. Harbor College cook and bake at the Third Annual Culinary Cup.
(Bonnie Ho
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Students from three community college campuses cooked, baked, sautéed and displayed their very best dishes on Friday to see who would win the third annual Culinary Cup.

The competition allows culinary arts students to show off their chops as they work toward a degree and a place in one of the country's fastest-growing industries.

The schools going head to head: Los Angeles Mission College, Harbor College, and L.A. Trade-Tech College, which hosted this year's competition.

More than 400 family members, friends, and others showed up to watch the students work. The competition, drawing this year on Southeast Asian influences, has three different categories: sweet, savory, and table display.

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Into a pressure cooker

The three labs were dead quiet and full of students moving purposefully. There was none of the chaos you would see on TV cooking shows. These students were focused, quiet, and definitely here to win.

While Mission College student Jayden Arguello prepared his dish, his sister Alexis Figueroa stood outside, quietly cheering him on. In fact, his whole family showed up, alongside many others, standing in the hallways and crowding around the viewing windows to watch their loved ones compete.

Arguello was in charge of his team's soup dish.

“I don't know how he’s doing it with those judges over his shoulder,” Figueroa said. “It’s making me nervous, I can’t imagine the pressure they’re under.”

Learning from the best

While having none of the raucousness of TV competitions, the Culinary Cup does have some familiar trappings — like a celebrity judge. Chef Jet Tila was the judge for the savory category this year, and he's no stranger to competition; he's a regular on the Food Network, and has judged on Iron Chef America, Beat Bobby Flay, Chopped, and Cutthroat Kitchen.

He said that the competition is an important part of the students' education — it makes a chef better.

“They are trying to balance technical skills like knife cuts, ratios of sauces, levels of moist heat and dry heat. Are they sautéing? Are they searing? Are they stir frying? Are they marking their meat? Are they getting the temperatures right? Balancing textures and flavors?" he said. "It’s right-brain left-brain. Half your brain is trying to get technical skills right, the other half is getting those flavors, nuance, and that experience right.”

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@laistofficial Hard-hitting questions only: We asked these culinary students to tell us their favorite bakeries in L.A. 🥐 What’s YOUR favorite bakery in #LosAngeles ? #baking #culinaryschool #communitycollege #manonthestreet ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

The winners

At the end of a five-hour competition, chalk it up to talent, or chalk it up to home-field advantage: Los Angeles Trade-Tech swept the categories and the overall prize. The champions will guard the Golden Chef Hat Trophy until next year.

Ticket proceeds will help pay for around 10 culinary scholarships for the coming year.

What questions do you have about local community colleges?
Community colleges act as a gateway for first-generation students and adults seeking a second start. LAist reporter Jackie Orchard wants students — and those who support them — to have the information they need to thrive in the California Community College system.

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