This weekend some talented St. Louis high school seniors will cook for their futures at the sixth annual Le Cordon Bleu Future Chefs Competition at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
Students submitted essays explaining why they want to become professional chefs. The ten top essayists will compete in an Iron Chef-style kitchen showdown for three judges. The winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship to the school. Second place gets a $5,000 scholarship, third gets $2,500.
All finalists are given a Le Cordon Bleu uniform, chef's knife and a $125 gift certificate for Wiley Culinary textbooks, giving them a boost when they begin their first semester at the school.
Says Le Cordon Bleu instructor and judge chef Marie-Anne Velasco: "Everyone who submitted their essays has been dreaming about cooking -- through elementary school, through high school. Everything from 'I love to make cookies' to 'I love to make dinner for my family' to 'my mom and my dad have their friends come over and I cook.'"
Finalists come from all parts of the St. Louis area, from Wentzville to the city, and there's a good balance of girls and boys. Most haven't started working in the restaurant industry yet, save for a few who worked part time at pizza joints.
Last week the kids paid a visit to the kitchen/classroom for a tour and a lesson on how to break down a chicken, which will be the main ingredient in Saturday's competition. "Something really easy that they can practice on at home," says Velasco. "They get to cook it however they want and season it however they want."
In the 90 minutes they have to complete their cooking, the finalists will also create salads from a market basket of vegetables. They will have access to the school's pantry.
But what's a competition without an audience? The school is hosting an open house at the same time, and the public's invited to watch. "We've got screens and windows over the classroom, which is really nice. The families can come and cheer them on. You know how it is in culinary school: Everyone's super-competitive. It gets everyone's blood pumping," says Velasco.
Velasco believes the finalists going into culinary school straight from high school will have an edge once they enter the workforce. "It helps you so much in getting prepared to start you in the culinary field. I just wish I was younger when I first started. The younger you are, the more energy you have. The more eager you are to work the nights, and just start cooking."
Sixth Annual Le Cordon Bleu Future Chefs Competition Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts 7989 Veterans Parkway St. Peters
Saturday, June 12, beginning at 10 a.m.