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(Edible) Work Of Beauty

February 16, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

When teenage chef Casandra Guzman puts her specialty dessert on the line in a national recipe contest this weekend, she can hope the judges like it as much as her mother does.

In a recent trial run at her home in Hartford, Guzman said, "I made four, and she ate three in one day."

The 18-year-old senior at A.I. Prince Technical High School is the second Prince student in the past three years to be selected as a finalist in the senior division of the prestigious National High School Culinary Challenge sponsored by Johnson & Wales University.

Connecticut has had 10 finalists since the contest began 17 years ago, a Johnson & Wales spokeswoman said.

"I love baking," said Guzman, who once considered studying to be an electrician but instead chose to specialize in culinary arts, one of the most popular trades at the technical school.

"I can't draw, but you can make such artistic things by cooking," Guzman said. Her entry is a colorful creation called "Strawberry Flan with a Trio of Sauces accompanied by a Tuile."

Guzman leaves today for Johnson & Wales' Charlotte campus in North Carolina, where she is one of nine finalists in the contest's dessert category. Twelve other finalists will compete in a separate dinner category. Finalists were selected from more than 500 entrants.

Officials selected Guzman after reviewing her entry for the low-fat strawberry flan, a custard-like dessert designed to meet "healthful dessert" guidelines.

"It has to be your own recipe," said Guzman, who practiced making the dessert over and over, seeking just the right combination of ingredients and techniques - "the design on the plate, the texture of the flan."

Her recipe includes a strawberry custard and sauces of kiwi, orange and blackberry, served with a tuile, or thin, crisp cookie.

To meet the low-fat guidelines of the American Heart Association, she substituted egg whites for whole eggs and margarine for butter to make the flan.

"It took me awhile to get there," she said. "I got, like, the perfect texture."

Guzman will prepare the dessert for contest judges on Saturday, hoping to avoid problems such as breaking a kiwi seed during the puree process, which can turn the kiwi sauce a dull gray, she said.

The recipes will be judged on taste, ease of preparation, presentation and appearance. All of the finalists will receive at least partial scholarships to attend Johnson & Wales, with the grand prize winner in each category getting a full, four-year scholarship worth up to $80,000.

"Casandra is a great student," said Richard Collier, a veteran chef and instructor who calls her one of the top two students he has seen in his eight years at Prince Tech. "She has an artistic flair to her."

Collier said there is a demand for top-notch pastry chefs at hotels and restaurants throughout the world. Culinary arts is one of the most popular trade programs in the state's 17 technical high schools, enrolling more than 10 percent of the system's upperclassmen.

A U.S. Department of Labor forecast says jobs for chefs, cooks and food preparation workers are expected to be plentiful through 2014.

After graduating from Prince Tech, Casandra plans to study bakery and pastry arts and food service management at Johnson & Wales' campus in Providence.

At Prince Tech, she has made a variety of desserts for a school restaurant that serves faculty and guests. Last year, she made a wedding cake for her guidance counselor, Guzman said.

She hopes someday to open her own restaurant or bakery specializing in desserts, she said.

"It's relaxing when I bake. I could be in the worst mood ever," she said, but working in the kitchen cheers her up. "Mixing the flan, making the plate presentation, is something I really enjoy doing."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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