Cinthia Stimson photo

Manny Coulter (left) prepares a duck breast in a cast iron skillet as his teammate Bailey Mueller, prepares a lemon filling for the eighth grade team’s competition dishes during the Iron Ram Chef event at Glenrock High School Friday night. K2 radio personality Rodeo Rick Darcy (far right) asks Bailey a question about her dish while her brother, Austin Mueller (center), watches her cook. The other members of the eighth grade team, Laura Fernandez and Riley McCluer, are out of sight in the kitchen, baking.

Cinthia Stimson, cinthia@glenrockind.com

Culinary kiddos’ classy cooking takes them to State competition in Laramie


The man’s head glistened with sweat as he stood over a hot pan, gently searing salmon fillets.


To his left, an eighth grade student added a fresh sprig of basil to the duck breast sizzling in the cast iron skillet before him.


On the far right, four high school girls chopped and stirred, discussing their winning strategies in loud whispers.


It was Friday night. And, it was time for a showdown – the first Iron Ram Chef 2022, at Glenrock High School.


The stars onboard to wow judges for the night with their cooking prowess were the community’s very own –  the junior high culinary team of  Manny Coulter, Laura Fernandez, Riley McCluer and Bailey Mueller; the high school team consisting of Trysta Stoddard, Summer Schumacher, Esperanza Almonte and Bianca Skinner; and the Old Herders team of Michael “The Gordon Ramsey of Top Ramen” Martinez, Kara Renquist, and Suzey and Stephen Delger.


Each team, set up at stainless steel tables in the GHS commons area, had exactly one hour to cook their salmon appetizer, an entree using duck breast, and a dessert using lemons.


High school culinary instructor Richard Hopper said each team had 30 minutes of prep time and just one hour of actual cooking time using the showcased ingredients. Other than those three items, the teams’ ingredients were only limited by their imaginations.


“We don’t do too bad for being little old Glenrock,” he said. “We have competed in worldwide events and done very well going up against others who go to trade schools and cook all day long.”


Culinary class has really gained in popularity in the Herder community – up from 45 students last year to a whopping 85 kids enrolled this year.


“We have five classes a day, three for high school and two for junior high,” Hopper said. “We are hopeful we’ll be able to add a sixth class next year.”


Friday night’s event wasn’t a qualifying competition. It was, in fact, a fun trial for the students to test out their skills prior to heading to State this week in Laramie. If they win State, they’ll go on to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.


As the three teams created their masterpiece dishes, the deep concentration could be seen in the frown lines on their foreheads – even if the fundraiser was just for fun.


When asked if his team had any secret ingredients going into their entree, Coulter said simply, “Love.”


Coulter grinned.


When he first signed up for culinary class, he wasn’t actually sure what he’d gotten himself into, he said.


“I was thinking it was some kind of art class. I wasn’t really sure what kind of class it was at first, but after a couple of classes I decided I really liked it, and want to pursue it. I’m working on getting better with every class I go to,” Coulter said.


 During the time the students and Old Herders cooked, emcee (and K2 Radio deejay) Rodeo Rick Darcy teased the crowd and encouraged them to bid on auction baskets displayed in the room. In addition, while introducing the evening’s judges – Kayla Nelson and Shannon Pinkerton – he auctioned off a judge’s seat to winner Gordon Stoddard, who said “My wife says I watch too much Food Network, so I guess I’m an expert in that.” His family ponied up $250 for Stoddard to get to judge.


Soon, the hour was up. Judges began taste-testing the teams’ dishes and marking down points based on use of required ingredients, plating and how well the dishes pleased the palate.


Then, a winner was announced: the high school team won by just two points over the junior high team.


And, the Old Herders came in last.


“The kids kept saying, ‘Chef! This is fun!’ A few of them had trepidation at first, but afterward they said they couldn’t wait to do it again,” Hopper said Monday morning.


Glenrock’s culinary team is historically successful when put to the test, winning 13 state events and going on to compete nationally throughout the years. April 29 Hopper is taking 10 culinary students to Epcot Center at Disney World, where they will compete in the worldwide Cook Around the World competition.


“We will compete against other high school from all around the world, there will be Food Network stars there, it will be a great time!” Hopper enthused. “The kids have been trying to go for three years but couldn’t because of Covid. Finally, we have a green light!”


Some have said Wyoming lacks the excitement of the culinary world, but Hopper said he hopes to change that.


“We’re constantly bringing this program to the community and the community is very supportive. We couldn’t do it without the local support. We’ve had one rancher donate hundreds of dollars of lamb, ranchers donating beef. Every one of our students are experts at cooking steaks, thanks to the donations,” he said.


Hopper feels confident in how the Herd will perform at State.


“We should do well. We have won State numerous times and have not placed below third plate for the last 14 years. Our students are very talented!”


Editor's note: More photos are in the print and online editions of the Glenrock Indpendent.


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