COLUMBIA — Hailey King had no cooking experience before her sophomore year of high school. But in June, she'll compete for the SkillsUSA national Championship in culinary arts.
"I took Culinary in sophomore year, couldn't cook at all, and it just came naturally," said King, a senior at Rock Bridge High School. "Now I'm going to nationals."
Heather Pitt, a senior at Hickman High School, has a different culinary history than King, but will compete alongside her at the championships in Kansas City. Pitt will vie for the national title in the commercial baking category.
"(Cooking) has always been in my family," she said. "People on my mom's side have owned restaurants, so I know I've always wanted to do that. I found the classes at the career center and that got me started."
Pitt and King are students at the Columbia Area Career Center in the culinary arts program and both have been preparing for the national competition since October, including after-school and eight-hour Saturday practices.
The commercial baking competition at SkillsUSA will test Pitt's ability to bake "standard" items like bread, rolls, cookies, pies and cakes. In the culinary arts competition, King will have a full day to produce a four-course meal. She and other high school participants will work from a shared menu of standardized recipes that has yet to be released.
Jeff Rayl, one of their instructors at the career center, has worked with the girls since they began taking classes there.
"The amount of hours they've put into this — I don't know how to put a number on that," he said. "It's countless. Both of them have the passion, and that's why they're successful."
Students from the career center have had comparable success in past years, particularly in the culinary arts category. King is the career center's 11th-straight state champion and would be its third national champion in the past four years if she wins.
This weekend, Pitt, King and several of their classmates and instructors held two fundraisers. On Saturday, they made omelets at the Columbia Farmer's Market, and on Sunday, they made omelets and sold baked goods at the North Village Arts District Farmer's and Artisan's Market.
Rayl estimated that they served about 700 people and would sell all of their 400 baked goods by the end of the weekend.
The proceeds from this weekend's sales will buy supplies for a nine-course dinner at Les Bourgeois on June 3, the final fundraiser to help pay for the girls' trip to the championships in Kansas City at the end of June. Tickets for the dinner sold out at $75 per person shortly after Pitt and King qualified for nationals by winning state championships in early April. King and Pitt will take the lead in planning and executing the meal.
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