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Cafe Fresh turns profit to scholarships.

Judges Jason Brown and Clint Sadler. Chicken empanadas. Pozole. Crab-stuffed mushrooms. Crepes. Strawberry shortcake. Lemon bars.

This may sound like the menu from a fine dining establishment, but these were actually just a few of the items whipped up by the culinary arts students for the annual cook-off.

Teacher Crystal Telles came up with the idea for the cook-off as a way to award scholarships to one of the advance culinary students with Cafe Fresh.

"When the cafe started making a profit, we had money left over at the end of the year, so I thought it would be a good idea to reward the kids for all their hard work and help them further their education," Mrs. Telles said. "Every year there are several students who plan to specialize in culinary after they graduate, and even the students who are just learning how to cook as a hobby are eligible to apply for the scholarship."

The students are totally responsible for the contest meal, from the menu choices and ingredient selection to preparation and presentation.

In addition to the hands-on aspect of the cook-off, the students have to provide their rationale for their menu.

“I chose this recipe because it’s one of my favorite Mexican dishes,” said. Brandon Rocha, who chose pozole and plans to attend culinary school after graduation. “It’s simple, traditional and flavorful.”

Students also have to be concerned with other aspects of cooking, such as costs to prepare the meal and the overall presentation.

“I chose my dish because it is inexpensive,” said McKhaley Avery, who cooked hamburger casserole with a side of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as strawberry shortcake for dessert. “Strawberry shortcake is also very inexpensive to make, and it’s colorful and goes well with the main course.”

Jamien Rugwiza prepares his stuffed mushrooms. The dishes are also judged on presentation. One of the tasty recipes this year came in the form of a fungus.

“I chose stuffed mushrooms because I enjoy mushrooms, but not a lot of people I know like them,” said Jamien Rugwiza, whose menu featured crab-stuffed mushrooms with a side of asparagus and lemon bars. “I wanted to make them in a way that anyone would like.”

Outside “celebrity” judges are brought in to feast on the spread while ranking each entry in regards to taste, texture, variety and appearance.

“I think it's neat to see results of their hard work all year,” said Jason Brown, who has helped judge the contest for several years. “It definitely blows me away that these kids are capable of creating 5-star dining meals.”

Mr. Brown got involved as a judge a few years ago by accident. He was a last-minute fill-in for a judge who couldn’t make it and says now he looks forward to the cook-off.

Yenifer Torres was this year's winner. Brandon Rocha stirs his pazole. “Every year the food gets better,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure I get back on the judging list next year. It’s one of the highlights.”

The final results come in the form of a scholarship presentation on senior awards night. This year’s recipient was Yenifer Torres, who prepared chicken empanadas with a side of pico de gallo and avocado and strawberry crepes.

“I chose this recipe because I wanted to try something new,” she said.

The results speak for themselves as she heads to college with an additional $1,000 to help with expenses.