HUDSON — Bring it on.
That's the brash attitude that Fivay High School's first-year culinary arts students are taking to Pasco County's debut bake-off.
Fivay students will compete next week against more seasoned teens from the culinary programs at Land O'Lakes High, Anclote High and Marchman Technical Education Center as they fight for the right to make dessert for one of the county's biggest fundraisers, the Pasco Education Foundation Cinderella Ball.
"We're the new school," junior Alisha Derome said Thursday after her class catered a lasagna lunch for teachers. "But we're not going to be easy to beat."
Kathryn Starkey, who helped organize Tuesday's tasting at the Connerton Club House, said the idea came from the competitive cooking shows on the Food Network.
"It just seemed like a fun thing to do, to showcase the kids' talents and give them a friendly competition between the schools," Starkey said.
The foundation plans to bring in chefs, cooks and other pros from area restaurants to judge the desserts based on presentation, degree of difficulty and taste. It also is selling a small number of tickets to the tasting, which in time could become a second fundraiser to support student and teacher scholarships.
"We hope that next year, schools will put up multiple teams," Starkey said.
Fivay students wasted no time in choosing cheesecake as their entry.
It's not too heavy or too light, they said, and it fits in with an upscale event like the Cinderella Ball. It also can be prepared ahead of time for the 250 guests expected to attend.
Being first-year students, though, the class needed to learn some techniques to perfect their selection, teacher Deb McHenry said. Cheesecake can be overdone if not made properly, she said, so she taught them about using water baths to prevent a burned crust, for instance.
"It wasn't too difficult," said junior Angel Bueno. "I like cooking. It's my thing."
The class quickly began seeking out recipes to test.
"We wanted to do something unique," said sophomore Jamie Jaroma.
After picking a variety of possibilities, they had Iron Chef competitions against one another.
"We tried to make them better" than the recipe, junior Kyle Hunt said.
Satisfied with the results, they asked teachers and administrators to pick the winners to enter in the contest.
"I liked the lemon ginger cheesecake," assistant principal Matt McDermott said, admitting that he snuck back into the kitchen for seconds. "It was just a good, crisp, clean taste, not too tart, not too sweet. That was my favorite."
It won the teacher taste test, with turtle cheesecake coming in second. Both are headed to the bake-off. The class will make the desserts Monday and present them Tuesday.
"It's a lot of pressure, but I think it will be fun," said sophomore Sara Schiff, who helped make the turtle cheesecake. "Whether we win or not, it's still going to be worthwhile to go."
McHenry said she has confidence in her students, who have come alive at the opportunity to claim bragging rights from the other participating culinary programs.
"By having them compete, they get more energized, especially when they get to select what they are going to do," she said. "It would be amazing if Fivay won."
Publix Foundation is sponsoring the Cinderella's Favorite Dessert event, which also features a cash prize for the winning school. For tickets or other information, contact the foundation at (727) 774-2705.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.