SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The term "food fight" took on a whole different meaning at the Oasis Convention Center in Springfield on Friday when high school teams competed to see who was the best culinary artist in Missouri.
There were 18 teams vying for the honor and make no mistake about it, this is serious business.
Teams must prepare an appetizer, entree, and desert in less than an hour and we're not talking meat and taters here. It's more the "fru-fru" kind of stuff you find at a fancy restaurant. Most of them look like pieces of art that are too pretty to eat, and the finished meals are treated like models with their own paparazzi as you'll find plenty of onlookers snapping photos of all the entries.
The best way to describe the competition?
"Nerve wracking," answered Haley Shaver, a member of the four-person Hartville high school team.
It's not just the taste of the final product that determines the winner.
Five judges are walking around constantly evaluating the teams as they prepare their three-course-meal.
"Every move they make is being critiqued and judged," explained Buddy Luhl, the Board Director of the Missouri Restaurant Association.
"They're pretty nit-picky," added Susan Keith, Hartville's culinary team instructor. "They have certain criteria you have to meet. Different sauces, different types of meat, different cuts."
"They're judging four different knife cuts so they julienne cut their vegetables and they dice and they chop," Luhl said. "Whatever cooking technique they're using whether it's sautéing, broiling, baking or frying we're making sure that they did those things properly."
As the time winds down, you can feel the tension as the Hartville team rushes to complete a task they've spent three months preparing to carry out. They finish with just 17 seconds to spare and admit the adrenaline kick-in was the best part of the experience.
"It's the rush of getting it done," Shaver said.
"Most of it for me is the satisfaction of you getting a pretty plate and if you make it perfect it's just so complete," said Aubrey Hardcastle, another member of the Hartville team that also included Jonathan Branstetter and Jayde France.
After completing their grueling preparation on-time, Hartville's meal is then presented to a group of judges for evaluation.
"We had too many ingredients on some of the plates that you couldn't get an exact taste out so we do need to change that," Shaver said of the feedback.
Hartville would end up finishing 12th, just one-point behind the seventh place team. They were undeterred by the outcome though, knowing they'd bonded and learned life skills that they'll use for decades to come.
"Food is life," Luhl said. "And a lot of these kids are going to go on to culinary school or hospitality management and we're gonna be eating in their restaurant one day so that's kind of what it's all about."
The winning team from Raytown moves on to the national competition and receives scholarship money.