KANSAS CITY — Eighteen-year-old Margaret Hughes sparingly treats her family with her baked goods at home, but she wows strangers with the smell of her cinnamon rolls in the heat of competition.
The 2009 Rock Bridge High School graduate and a classmate, Ben Truesdell, competed last month in the commercial baking and culinary arts competitions, respectively, at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City.
Hughes placed fourth out of 40 high school students from around the country who competed in the commercial baking contest. In less than seven hours, she was required to bake pan loaf bread, braided bread, a pineapple pie, cinnamon rolls, single-knot rolls, coffee rings, a puff pastry and an iced and decorated cake.
While competing, Hughes said she tries to block out everything going on around her.
"I get in the zone and try to do my own thing," Hughes said.
Truesdell placed fourth out of 42 high school students in the culinary arts category. He had about six hours to prepare a green salad with a mayonnaise-based emulsified dressing and a chicken and vegetable soup using chicken he fabricated himself in the beginning of the competition.
In the same time frame, Truesdell was required to make two entrées. The first one was a hand-fried chicken cutlet with rice pilaf, sautéed green beans and glazed carrots with a lemon demi-glace. His second entrée was a poached salmon with parsley potatoes and stewed zucchini with an herbed beurre blanc.
Truesdell's interest in cooking was sparked at home, attracting him to culinary classes at the Columbia Area Career Center his sophomore year. He then picked up a job at Murry's, where he has worked for the past two years and is the youngest line cook.
Truesdell said the best part of cooking is his personal control over quality.
He and Hughes spent the week prior to the competition preparing at the career center, where they both participated in the culinary arts program.
“The week before, I went in everyday at like 8:30 (a.m.), and we practiced the entire competition,” Truesdell said. “I was worried about making sure everything was perfect. I had a difficult time getting the chicken vegetable soup really clear because the chicken was kind of fatty.”
Hughes said she was most concerned about getting everything done on time and making sure her bread was proofed and ready.
“I am happy with what I placed,” Hughes said. “I am happy with how everything came out.”
“I thought I did really good,” Truesdell said. “Fourth place is pretty good. Culinary is hard to judge because it’s opinionated. One thing can taste good to one person and totally different to another.”
Both Hughes and Truesdell took first place in their categories at the state skills competition, winning them their bid to the national event in Kansas City.
Truesdell also recently competed in the Le Cordon Bleu’s Future Chef of America competition and won a $10,000 scholarship to the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, where he plans to attend school in the fall.
Hughes plans to attend Johnson and Wales University in Miami to major in culinary arts.
Truesdell offers a piece of advice for all cooks.
"Be conscientious of everything going on, every part of the meal," he said.