It was a slow weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center's food concession stalls: How could a foot-long dog compete with the stuffed wild boar, freshly shucked oysters and other gustatory lagniappes being handed out at the American Culinary Federation National Convention late last month?
Over in the convention's competition kitchen, Rudy Garcia had similar cause to feel outclassed as he finessed his Kahla Sunrise. His 11 co-finalists in the 1998 "New Star Dessert Search" were pastry chefs flown in by their fancy-hotel employers from as far away as Maui and New York City. East L.A. native Garcia, 39, does his cooking in classrooms (Sylmar's Monroe High School and Mission Junior College), carries his utensils in a plastic Sears Craftsman toolbox and admits he's more of a saute man.
While the others may have had corporate backers, Garcia had a cheering section of students he has ushered through the nonprofit Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). They had prodded him to enter the national contest, in which the big prize was a trip to Lyon, France.
Garcia was pretty sure his dessert was doomed: a scheduling squeeze and a humid kitchen had kept his mousse from setting properly. Yet with a jeweler's precision he placed each element on the judges' plates. "He handles food like he's handling a baby," said student Kathleen Du Prez. "When he's handling food, you see the real him. His outside personality is a little bit rough."