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A winning combination

Chelsea Gantt, left, and Eddie Windham, culinary arts students at Rock Hill's Applied Technology Center, pitted their skills against other students at a Charleston culinary competition Sunday. Gantt won a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University for her recipe, Shrimp and Grits in Paradise.
Chelsea Gantt, left, and Eddie Windham, culinary arts students at Rock Hill's Applied Technology Center, pitted their skills against other students at a Charleston culinary competition Sunday. Gantt won a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University for her recipe, Shrimp and Grits in Paradise.

Coconut shrimp with marmalade sauce served in a lemon cup with a side of grits prepared with chicken broth and milk.

"A lot of crazy ingredients may go together, but you've got to know that it tastes good," said Suzanne Young, culinary arts instructor at the Rock Hill school district's Applied Technology Center.

Judges in a Charleston culinary competition thought the shrimp and grits combination was a winner when they tasted it Sunday. Rock Hill High School senior Chelsea Gantt chose the ingredients for her recipe, Shrimp and Grits in Paradise.

Gantt, 18, won an $8,000 scholarship to Johnson & Wales University, placing second in the fourth annual Sustainable Seafood Festival at the Charleston Maritime Center. The scholarship, contingent upon acceptance, is renewable for four years.

Gantt, a culinary arts student at the Rock Hill school district's Applied Technology Center, was one of two Rock Hill High students who were chosen to compete in the event.

The other was her fellow culinary arts classmate Eddie Windham, also a senior.

This was the first culinary competition for the two local students, who are at Level II, the highest level. They competed on stage against three other seniors and five juniors from around the state for the grand prize, a $12,000 scholarship to the culinary arts university.

The students were required to submit original recipes in September, using a local, sustainable seafood item from a list that was supplied. Only five juniors and five seniors were chosen to compete.

At the competition on Sunday, the students were given an hour to prepare their creations on gas stove burners, using ingredients that were provided to them.

But Gantt didn't seem to be worried about the pressure. "I feel really comfortable," she said last week, before the competition. "I'm used to cooking for people."

Her winning entry features grits cooked in evaporated milk, crisp bacon, chicken broth and garlic. The shrimp, coated in sweet coconut and bread crumbs and then fried, can be dipped in her own concoction of orange marmalade sauce made with brown sugar and butter.

"I knew I was going to do shrimp and grits," said Gantt, who took two days to come up with the perfect combination. "It's just a down-home Southern favorite. I just spiced it up a little bit and came up with my own creation."

Gantt said she "threw away a lot of plates" before her parents and two siblings -- as well as her culinary classmates -- agreed that the "sweet and a little salty" dish was the one she should enter.

"Everyone thought it was amazing," said Gantt, who aspires to be a pastry chef and wants to open a bakery. "I wanted it to be impressive."

That was the same sort of response that Windham, 17, received from his mother and classmates when he was testing his dish. It only took him one attempt to prepare his Pan-seared Mahi Mahi over Tomato Espanole Sauce with Two Herb Pesto.

Windham's colorful dish includes tomatoes, chicken stock, soy sauce and basil heaped over tender pan-seared Mahi Mahi fillets, which are served with a two-herb pesto sauce.

"I did it the first time and it tasted good to me," said Windham, who decided to go with a fish that he enjoyed. "That would be something I could order in a restaurant."

Young said the students practiced in class, but they didn't need much of her help in making their dishes stand out. "They are creative on their own, and they come to me for advice," Young said.

The challenge for the students in making their dishes unique was deciding what to add to their recipes and what to leave out. Young offered her feedback.

Gantt plans to attend Johnson & Wales. Windham said he plans to also attend the culinary arts school. Upon completion, he hopes to someday open a restaurant.

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