By Dana Delgado
GEORGETOWN — The pose captured in the celebratory picture of the Liberty Hill High School Culinary Arts Team at the April 25 Georgetown ISD Culinary Throwdown Competition said it all.
The team comprised of Sabrina Sweeney, Juliette Fierro, Caleb Hanson and Omar Perez along with their mentor and Culinary Arts Instructor Kathy Becker and LHISD Child Nutrition General Manager Mary Sheffield embraced warmly, laughed, and radiated with pride for their accomplishments as the photo was being snapped. Junior Chelsey Reagan had to leave immediately after the competition and was absent from the picture.
The group had become so united that Ms. Becker described them as much more than just a competition team.
“We are like a family,” the LHHS culinary instructor said.
The team members, who only days before had been intense classroom competitors, came together to produce a well-received dish and impressive presentation and earned honors for “Best Table Display.”
“The team didn’t want to work together at first but did really well together,” said Miss Sweeney, who has been in the culinary arts program for four years and will be headed this summer to the University of Texas at Arlington to pursue her interests in photography.
Wearing broad smiles while donning their winning medals, the team also showed signs of wear and relief from their wild race against the clock versus five experienced culinary arts teams in a crowded and smoky kitchen with limited ovens at East View High School in Georgetown.
With constant eyes on the clock and a periodic countdown and team chants and cheers, the LHHS team cut, cooked and created their Pancetta, Pear, Hazelnut Salad with Goat Cheese and Tandoori Chicken with Cucumber Raita in the nick of time.
“It was pretty stressful but a lot of fun,” said spirited senior Juliette Fierro, who admitted it didn’t go quite like they had practiced. “In practice, we timed ourselves and went slower but really had to step it up in the competition.”
Junior team member Miss Reagan said, “It was nerve-wracking at first. There wasn’t an oven available because of all the teams but things settled down. It took a little longer than we expected but everything went pretty good.”
Miss Sweeney said the clock was indeed a major factor in the experience.
“We were pretty well prepared,” said Miss Sweeney. “It was really fun at first, but it got stressful towards the end.”
Hansen, who has been cooking since he was seven years old and plans to pursue a career in culinary arts, said, “It was quite hectic towards the end because of the time.”
Despite the stress, LHHS Junior Omar Perez was happy with how things turned out.
“Things went pretty smooth,” he said. “The recipe turned out way better. I think we did very well. The judges liked our presentation and food.”
The girls were primarily responsible for preparing the salad while the boys readied the meat.
Ms. Becker guided and monitored the team throughout the intense competition as distinguished culinary judges circulated about the kitchen observing every step.
“I think our kids did well,” said Mrs. Becker. “They’re competitive and worked well together. The kitchen was a challenge and there was no stove and only limited ovens.”
None of the Liberty Hill team members had every competed in a formal competition like the one at Georgetown. They had participated in a variety of district activities like open house and School Board week, but this was an entirely new experience.
“Our kids managed the stress well but they didn’t know what to expect,” said Mrs. Becker. “Other teams have been in competitions while we have focused on real life serving situations in the district.”
Mrs. Becker knows a lot of dealing with stress and overcoming adversity. She is a self-made professional arising from unexpected real life personal experiences.
The LHHS Culinary Arts Instructor said she’s always cooked and her ex-husband was a chef. But when she found herself divorced at 38 without a home or car and a five-year old in tow, she went back to school with her parents’ support. Absolutely determined, she completed her degree with a 3.9 grade point average and was graduated summa cum laude at Tarleton State University.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “I just knew it was in God’s hands. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Mrs. Becker said her work can be overwhelming but she never tires of it.
“I love it,” she said. “It can be exhausting but I always look forward to going to work. I get attached to my kids. They know I truly care about them but know that I expect a lot out of them. I want them all to be able to go out and get a job.”
Her influence through her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Each of the LHHS Culinary Arts competition team showered Mrs. Becker and her program with praise.
Miss Reagan, who transferred to LHHS this year from Leander, says she has enjoyed all aspects of the program, but particularly the activities where they get to serve at various functions.
“It’s been really motivating,” she said.
Miss Sweeney has been in the culinary arts program for four years and calls Mrs. Becker “a second mom.”
“I like it a lot,” added Perez. “I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I like eating most of all but when I took the nutrition class, I had fun.”
Perez said he experiments at home a lot and helps his mother.
Hanson said he has enjoyed the classes conducted by Mrs. Becker. The senior, born in Bangkok, Thailand, has extensive experience in authentic cuisine from his missionary work with his parents in Southeast Asia and India. He says he does 95 percent of the family cooking and all the grocery shopping.