If there is something that Newberg High School senior Taylor Coen learned from last year's Oregon ProStart Culinary Championships, it's to avoid rushing and work at a steady pace.
As the only member of this year's team who has experienced the pressure of the competition first hand, she's hoping to bring a sense of calm and focus to the squad Saturday when they return to the state competition at the Salem Convention Center.
"We want to work at a speed that will get us there in time but not so fast that you're freaking out about it," Coen said. "Communication is a really big thing we're trying to work on, making sure that everybody knows what's happening, especially with our menu. We have two burners and we need to be constantly moving between them."
Joining Coen on this year's team are fellow seniors Haley Grace, Liz Talavera and Ryan Spensly, and freshman Madeliene Fletcher.
After exploring a number of possible menus, the team opted to bring their own flair to traditional Greek cuisine.
Talavera will lead preparation of the tzatziki tomato cup appetizer, which involves stuffing tomatoes with a mixture of diced cucumbers, onions, feta cheese, paprika and olive oil and preparing the traditional Greek yogurt sauce. The team likes to think of it like a Greek version of pico de gallo.
The team's main course will be lamb kabobs with bell peppers and red onion with a side of tumeric rice with spinach and avolemono, a traditional lemon sauce.
Coen will lead preparation of the kabobs, which will be a deconstructed version of a lamb meatball recipe the team particularly likes,
"Everything that would have gone into the meatballs went into a marinade with a white vinegar sauce," Coen said. "The meat sits in there until the vegetables and rice are done cooking. That kind of tenderizes it."
Fletcher will be in charge of the team's dessert, feta-stuffed Loukoumades, which are similar to donuts. Traditionally, they're served with a honey sauce, but the quintet has opted instead for a chocolate ganache and cherry sauce.
Grace will serve in a coordinating role but can't participate in the actual preparation of the dishes.
"I'm making sure their time is managed pretty well and I also try the dishes and tell them if they need something, like more salt," she said.
The team meets Mondays after school and has been drilling down on the details of the menu and its preparation routine as they will have a limited amount of space and equipment to use at the competition.
"We've been spending the last several meetings getting strict on what we're going to be doing in competition," Coen said. "It's a little harder with our set-up here, but we're making it work. We don't have the butane burners we'll have at the competition. We're also more spread out than we will be in competition. That's kind of the main challenge set up wise."
Newberg placed 10th in each of the last two state competitions, but with the field reduced from 20 to 16 teams this year, Coen said she is hoping to finish eighth or higher.
All four seniors on the team are planning to pursue careers in the culinary industry, with Coen planning to attend Johnson & Wales University in Denver next year to pursue a pastry and baking degree. Both Grace and Talavera plan to work in the field for a year before going to culinary school.
"Culinary has always been a really big passion of mine," Coen said. "I think I can speak for all of us in saying that just being (at state) is going to be a great experience."