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Taste of success: High school chefs headed to national food contest

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. From left, Meadowcreek High School culinary students Tyler Rivera, Nickholas Patma and Vincent Tompkins practice cooking the meal they'll be making during the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America national competition on July 9 in Anaheim, Calif.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. From left, Meadowcreek High School culinary students Tyler Rivera, Nickholas Patma and Vincent Tompkins practice cooking the meal they'll be making during the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America national competition on July 9 in Anaheim, Calif.

NORCROSS -- Tyler Rivera bobs his head to the music.

The bass thumps and drum beats are audible only to him as he chops, stirs and simmers. He hums the songs from memory.

As captain of an award-winning cooking trio from Meadowcreek High School, Rivera uses music to keep him "mobile and motivated ... and keep the team on track."

As a team, Rivera, Vincent Tompkins and Nickholas Patma work "magically well," culinary instructor Debbie Grant said.

She's not the only one who thinks so.

After besting competitors at regional and state level culinary events, the local students have secured a spot at the nationals in Anaheim, Calif.

Sponsored by the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, the July 9 event will pit state champions from across the United States.

Grant said her students are up to the challenge.

"They've practiced long and hard. They have some great teamwork and they really know what they're doing," Grant said.

To take home top honors, the three young men will have to excel in cooking beef tenderloin and chipotle mashed potatoes, served with cappuccino mousse.

"It's a tough dish," Grant said. "But they're getting it nailed down this week before they go to California."

Grant said a panel of food critics will taste the dish, judging the meal based on safety and sanitation, taste and appearance, the "plating" of the food, and techniques used.

They will have 30 minutes to set up, one hour to cook and 15 minutes to clean their workspace, Grant added.

She said it's the first time that a culinary team from Meadowcreek has competed in the FCCLA national leadership conference.

According to its website, FCCLA is a nonprofit national career and technical student organization. The organization aims "to develop skills for life through character development, creative and critical thinking, interpersonal communication, practical knowledge and career preparation."

Class Chef Mentor Richard Hurst said the three young men are on the right track to making a career of their craft.

"It's the love. It's the passion," Hurst said. "These guys are looking to do this for life. This isn't just some high school class they're in."

Rivera would probably agree with that.

The young man is excited about the upcoming competition.

"As long as we stay focused, stay on our feet, we should be in good shape," he said.

Rivera's looping mental playlist should keep them motivated, he added.

"That's how we work good. We move, move, move. There's a rhythm to it. It's a very soothing rhythm."