A passion for food: Summit High School senior Matt Vawter-Beaird’s passion for cooking takes him to a national competition | SummitDaily.com

A passion for food: Summit High School senior Matt Vawter-Beaird’s passion for cooking takes him to a national competition

SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit High School senior Matt Vawter-Beaird isn’t nervous about competing in the Art Institute’s national American Teen Chef competition Saturday. In fact, he rarely finds competition stressful.

“I’ll tell you what’s stressful: going into work at 2 p.m., there’s 130 people on the books, and you’re doing your best for Chef (David) Welch,” Vawter-Beaird said. “That’s stressful.”

Vawter-Beaird has worked for Welch at the Keystone Ranch for more than a year now. From the first day he walked through the door to work at the restaurant, Vawter-Beaird knew he wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts. He loves just about everything (peeling potatoes excluded) about working in a professional kitchen, he said.

It is that passion – for food, for cooking and for the culinary profession – that separates Vawter-Beaird from his peers, said Terri Vantiger, Vawter-Beaird’s high school culinary instructor.

Vantiger points to the dishes Vawter-Beaird prepared Monday as he practiced for Saturday’s competition: crab cakes with remoulade, spinach salad with Dijon vinaigrette, and roasted whole chicken with jus lie, red bliss potatoes and green beans and carrots. The menu is the same for all 18 competitors, but Vawter-Beaird has added some creativity in his presentation, Vantiger said.

For example, he doesn’t just cut the carrots. Vawter-Beaird takes an extra step and cuts them into a flower shape. He added a little touch of color to the crab cakes with the remoulade by garnishing the dish with three diamond-shaped pieces of tomato and a sprig of chives.

“It’s unusual for someone his age to be as excited as he is about food and cooking,” said Doug Pierce, chef owner of Arapahoe Cafe in Dillon. “He just has a knack for it.”

Vawter-Beaird also has an excellent palate – enabling him to bring out the natural flavor of the food he’s cooking, Vantiger said. “Not everyone can do that,” she said.

Vawter-Beaird has been practicing four days a week for Saturday’s competition in New York City. He and his competitors will be judged by a panel of professional chefs and faculty, including three of the nation’s 59 American Culinary Federation certified master chefs, according to a recent article in the Restaurant News of the Rockies. Though they will be judged in all areas, including organization, preparation, cleanliness, presentation and timing, Vawter-Beaird said his weakest point is probably speed.

“I feel confident with anything, but I think if anything breaks me, it’ll be the timing – and that could be too fast or too slow,” he said.

Accustomed to working under pressure in a professional kitchen, Vawter-Beaird has a tendency to “crank it up,” Vantiger said.

But Vawter-Beaird said he plans to chill out and do his best.

“From what I’ve seen … he’s got as good a chance as anyone to win,” Pierce said. “He’s been practicing real hard, and he seems very calm about it.”

Despite Vawter-Beaird’s confidence in the kitchen, he is quick to say he wouldn’t be going to the national competition if it weren’t for those who have taught him the trade.

“There’s been a lot of people that have put themselves on the line for me,” Vawter-Beaird said, adding that they are a part of the reason he wants to do well Saturday.

Vawter-Beaird is the first student from both Summit County and Colorado to go to the Art Institute’s national competition. The first-, second- and third-place winners will be awarded a full-tuition scholarship to the Art Institute – worth more than $30,000 each.

Vawter-Beaird won first place and a $15,000 scholarship at the Art Institute’s regional competition in March. He also received a $1,000 scholarship when he was awarded the Colorado ProStart Industry Achievement Award last month for his commitment to the industry.

“So he’s already at $16,000 in scholarships, and we’re not even finished,” she said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com

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