Culinary experience

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Robert Bertlesen, Alysha Wigner, Baileigh Krause and Kyiah Ingraham recently participated in the Big Sky Resort’s Vine and Dine event, where they worked hands-on with top chefs from around the country. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Four young Whitefish High School chefs got a chance to cook with the best last month.

Seniors Kyiah Ingraham, Alysha Wigner, Baileigh Krause and junior Robert Bertlesen this summer attended Big Sky Resort’s fourth annual Vine and Dine event, which pairs top local and special-guest chefs with high school students who participate in ProStart programs around the state.

A total of eight students were selected to participate in this year’s event on Aug. 17-20, with half coming from Whitefish consumer sciences teacher Amanda Matdies’ class. Twelve schools around the state use the Montana ProStart program, which teaches technical and industry-ready kitchen skills in accordance with the National Restaurant Association.

For four days the students stayed in Big Sky and worked with the chefs on various aspects of cooking and presenting food. Students rotated around to different stations with each chef, but eventually settled into working with one particular chef through the camp, Krause said.

The camp featured Google’s culinary team, American Chef and TV Personality John Besh, Big Sky Resort’s culinary team and Buck’s T4’s Food and Beverage Director Chuck Schommer, along with their sous chefs.

For Krause, the best part was the connections she made with high-level professionals.

“I got to work with the actual head chef of Google, Chef Scott Giambastiani,” she said. “I got to make a connection with John Besh, he’s a famous chef down in New Orleans and that’s where I’m from — I grew up watching his shows — so my favorite part was meeting him and making that connection.”

Ingraham said his favorite part of the trip was meeting the other culinary-minded students in attendance.

“Meeting students from other schools, that was a lot of fun,” he said. “We just created lifelong friendships there with those kids.”

Besides making interesting dishes — Krause described a lobster cappuccino/bisque concoction while Ingraham worked on a carrot top purée — the students also got to take part in a “Back to our Roots: The Power of Plants” presentation, meet Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and his wife Lisa and, on the final “fun day,” explore Big Sky via the ski lifts and zip line tours.

While the students are back in school, they’re not out of the kitchen. The next item on the agenda is competing at Montana ProStart State Invitational in Missoula next spring, hopefully followed by a trip to the National Invitational in Rhode Island soon after.

Ingraham said the goal for the culinary program is to send teams to nationals for both the management and culinary categories.

Along with competing, several culinary students are also pursuing their passions through the district’s new personalized projects program. Krause and Wigner are setting up a baking catering business, Ingraham and a couple classmates are developing a cooking show, and Bertlesen is setting up his own food truck.

Krause, Wigner and Bertlesen all came back from the camp saying they wanted to pursue the culinary field at Gallatin College in Bozeman, and while Ingraham doesn’t plan on studying the field directly, he’s curious to see how his experience in the media production side of things could tie into cooking down the road.

Krause said the camp was what assured her she’d found a passion worth nurturing.

“This camp actually pushed me toward culinary. Before I wasn’t sure, but this camp really opened my eyes to like, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said.

“It was a great experience, we got to make a lot of really good connections, so if we want to go further we have those to be able to do that. They were all so impressed with our professionalism and our knowledge of the kitchen and things like that. They were all really impressed with our work,” she added.

Montana ProStart is under the national ProStart umbrella, which is a program developed by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation in conjunction with the industry. ProStart reaches nearly 140,000 students annually in all 50 states.

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