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LA FERIA – Julio Botello dipped a spoon in the sauce for a measured taste test.
Finding it worthy for even the most demanding of judges, the 16-year-old chef in Omar Betancourt Duran’s culinary arts class at La Feria High School poured the sauce into a bowl of chicken wings.
Julio and three of his fellow cooks in Duran’s class were participating in the first-ever La Feria ISD BBQ competition at Lion Stadium.
More than 15 schools from throughout the Valley bought their culinary students to compete in the day-long event in the large parking lot outside the stadium.
“Today they are making fajitas, tacos, they are making chicken wings, they are making barbecue St. Louis Ribs, and they are doing baked beans,” said Duran.
The event had begun at 8 a.m. and started off “kind of rough” with the arrival of stormy clouds.
“This is the students’ first time doing a barbecue competition,” Duran said. “We set up a canopy.”
Smoke dashed away from pits beneath canopies where students busied themselves preparing pork ribs and cutting tomatoes and pouring flavors together. The smoke dashing from the pits carried a tease of the flavors and the tastes to come.
Students, teachers and administrators were pleased with the success of the event.
“It’s going pretty well so far,” said Cassandra Zuvieta, college and career director for the La Feria Independent School District.
“We have our judges, they just started taste test,” she continued. “From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every hour we’ll have some turn-ins for the different categories.”
Why did the district decide to host this event?
“We attended one last year in Edcouch, and we were all about La Feria ISD just having hands-on skills and real-world situations, so we decided lest just host our own.”
The chopping and the cutting and the sizzling and the industrious conversations of the young chefs beneath the canopies across the parking lot bore clear evidence that the kids were enjoying a hands-on learning experience.
Several boys from the La Villa school district gathered around a large table where they worked on pork ribs for their entry.
“We’re cutting the fat off the meat and seasoning it,” said Marcos Rangel, 14, a freshman.
“I am having a great time,” he said. “We have music, drinks, plenty of food.”
His instructor, Alonzo Garza, had brought only freshmen to the competition.
“I brought them today so they could kind of see the process,” said Garza.
Many of the students at La Villa also raise pigs for the livestock shows, he said, so this event gave them the chance to see the final process from the raising of an animal to the meat market and then dinner tables.
“They are doing pork ribs, beef fajitas, tacos,” he said. “They have to turn in the fajitas and the tacos and the wings.”
Most of the tacos had gone to the judges, but a few remained on the pit. One of those made a fine meal tantalizing in flavor and mysterious in its creation.
All the teams had their own secrets for the preparations of food. Aleydis Cantu, a senior at La Joya High School, wasn’t giving out her team’s recipes, nor were the others. But she was more than happy to talk about the food.
“We are making tacos, chicken wings, beans, and steak,” she said. “It’s very fun. I don’t know if it’s our first year but it’s definitely my first year.”
It was the first even of this kind for many. Joanne Gonzalez, Aleydis’ instructor in La Joya, confirmed this very well.
“This is our first time we’ve ever joined a cooking team,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a complete learning experience for me and them.”