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Santa Clarita's next top chef

Local student achieves Food Network dream

Posted: March 17, 2009 11:37 p.m.
Updated: March 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Seventeen-year-old Hart High School senior Ava Bardsley cuts slices of pears to go with her roasted pears with rasberry coulis dish she prepares in the culinary class Tuesday afternoon.

Ava Bardsley remembers being obsessed with the Food Network since she was 4 years old.

Her love for the television channel and its programming began when Bardsley and her family were involved in a traffic collision when she was 2.

The crash left her family members in and out of the hospital, and Bardsley stayed with different family members throughout her childhood.

Watching the Food Network became her favorite hobby.

"I just fell in love with it and it became my comfort," she said.

Tuning into episode after episode of "Two Fat Ladies" and "Barefoot Contessa" led Bardsley to discover her love for cooking.

"I was just born with it," said the 17-year-old.

Bardsley connected to Chef Ina Garten's simple cooking style and relaxed approach to making elaborate meals for friends and family.

"She takes food as a comfort," she said.

By age 8, Bardsley was in the kitchen teaching herself to cook from watching Food Network programs and reading cookbooks.

With every Christmas, her wish list detailed cookbooks, kitchen utensils and mixers she wanted to put to use.

Bardsley's self-taught culinary skills earned her a spot in the Johnson & Wales University Chef of the Year competition in Miami, Florida, April 3 through April 5. She is one of 10 students selected from hundreds of applicants nationwide.

The contest will be televised on the Food Network, and the winner will receive a full scholarship to Johnson & Wale University.

To qualify for the competition, applicants submitted a recipe that identifies them.

Her creation: prosciutto di parma encrusted beef roulade of wild forest mushrooms with blue dutchess potatoes.

For Bardsley, cooking comes down to self-expression.

"I like the artistic freedom," she said. "This is truly how I learned how to express myself."

"I love starting from nothing and creating a great dish," she said.

Bardsley enjoys making steak-house cuisine, which fits in with her meat-and-potatoes personality.

Her favorite ingredient, though, is blue cheese, which she incorporates into her recipes as often as possible.

"I love blue cheese. Blue cheese is my life," she said.

Bardsley is on her second semester in the Hart School District Regional Occupational Program culinary classes. This semester, she earned a spot in the advanced culinary class, where she mastered her knife skills and learned to make complex meals and desserts.

ROP advisor Pat Oakley watched Bardsley's talents develop over the past year in the culinary classes.

"She is so motivated," she said. "She will be successful in this business."

Bardsley hopes to attend Johnson & Wales University or Le Corden Bleu to study the culinary arts and eventually become a personal chef.

For the time being, she's excited to be on the television channel she grew up watching.

"I always felt like the Food Network raised me," she said.


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