You can't order grilled chicken with a side of zucchini pasta at McDonald's. But you can make the same dish using many of the ingredients from a McDonald's kitchen.
Such was the task at North Side High School in Fort Worth Thursday: to "use what you have and turn it into a dish," says teacher and chef Mike Gantz. Sounds like a week night at your house, doesn't it?
A room full of teenagers at the school's impressive culinary facility used familiar McD's ingredients like hamburger meat, buns, hashbrowns and even Big Mac sauce to make dishes that certainly didn't look like they came from a fast-food joint.
Ingredients used in the culinary competition Thursday were donated by McDonald's of Greater North Texas. It was a first-of-its-kind event in D-FW, though the group will likely host more, and donate more ingredients, so cooks of all culinary levels can show what they can do with McDonald's food.
See delicious photos in the gallery below.
The school's massive prep rooms, lined with commercial-grade stoves and ovens, are part of a $11.3 million project funded by a 2007 capital improvement program at Fort Worth ISD. Teacher and chef Kim Church, who has been with the district for 35 years, said the new facility affords students a much larger opportunity to consider a career in a restaurants.
"These kids are using tools and equipment that is way beyond a commercial kitchen," assistant principal David Trimble added. It's way bigger, too: The facility is more than 48,000 square feet and includes 17 classrooms and two full production kitchens. Before the facility was built, culinary arts students were taught in portable classrooms that couldn't accommodate more than a dozen people.
In Gantz and Church's classes, students start with the basics -- how to make stocks and safely cook meat, for instance. By year's end, they're searing filets and poaching lobster tails.
The food the students made seemed like it was straight off of a cooking show.
Take the chicken and zucchini pasta dish: The students refer to it by its proper name, chicken roulade -- that's stuffed chicken, in this case with red peppers and mushrooms. Underneath the chicken were balsamic vinegar "pearls" made by a student interested in science who used agar-agar to make little bubbles that burst like caviar. And the zucchini pasta: Boiled and tossed in pesto, right?
Nope. "We blanched it -- that's a fancy word for heating it, very quickly, so it shocks the vegetables," senior Xavier Thompson explained. His time in the class has inspired him to consider the Culinary Institute of America next year. Either that or his "back up plan," he tells me: Duke University.
All of the students made their dishes in an hour or less. They used techniques that seem applicable in their real lives, such as using stale bread (in this case, McDonald's buns) as bread crumbs in a meatball dish. They ended up winning "best taste" in a friendly food competition Thursday night.
Another student group took McDonald's hotcakes and shaped them like a taco around fried chicken -- their version of chicken and waffles. The chicken was covered in a granola crust and fried, then topped with a zingy maple syrup punctuated by red pepper flakes.
Six teams turned in dishes. I'd pay for each one in a restaurant.
Perhaps we'll see these bright young students in restaurants someday. "I want to open my own restaurant or run a restaurant for someone," said senior student Joe San Miguel.
"[The class] has given me a lot of ideas about my future."