Local high school student wins state cooking competition and now he’s headed to nationals
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AMMON — An Ammon high school student learned the benefits of pushing himself when he decided to enter a statewide cooking competition and won.
Thunder Ridge High School senior Paxton Webster earned the top spot in the Family Career Community Leaders of America cooking competition. He will be heading to Tennessee in late June to represent Idaho in the national competition.
Even though Paxton joined the competition just for fun, cooking has been a part of his life for years. He claims he has been pursuing cooking as a hobby since he was 12, but has fond memories of watching Rachel Ray and getting his hands dirty in the cooking process even before that.
“We used to make mud pies in the backyard with pots and pans with all my cousins,” Paxton tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I was always told mine were the prettiest.”
When he turned 12, he moved his experiments from the mud to the kitchen, something his mom, Kami Webster, didn’t approve of at first because of the giant messes he would leave behind. They eventually came to a cleanliness understanding.
“Once he got a little older, (I) and my husband would go on our date night, and Paxton would be the one who wanted to cook dinner because he would try to get this mess all cleaned up before I got home,” she said. “He’s amazing. He just uses a lot of dishes.”
But no mess could prevent Paxton from spending time around food.
“I’ve always liked cooking more because I like eating,” he said. “So that’s probably where my love of cooking started.”
Cooking took on another dimension when he met his teacher, Brenda Williams. In her class, he began to see a scientific side of cooking, which intrigued him even more. Paxton was excited when Williams asked him to participate in the FCCLA competition.
“I thought Paxton was a perfect candidate,” Williams explained. “He’s just a driven person. He just goes about his work and and he loves it.”
She explained that FCCLA is an organization that is designed to help students with leadership qualities in anything associated with family consumer sciences, like culinary arts. Williams has had multiple students enter in the past, and some even qualifying for the national competition, but Paxton is her first student to take first place for Idaho.
The competition is normally held in person, but this year, due to COVID-19, participants were given a recipe and had to record a video of themselves preparing it. Judges rated each dish based on a number of criteria. Among them were how students prepared each product, how the chef handled themselves in the kitchen, their knife cuts, their presentation, whether everything was done in a sanitary manner and was cooked properly.
Paxton chose to cook a chicken breast, mashed potatoes, a braised zucchini with tomatoes and onion and a mushroom sauce.
When it came time to announce the winners of the Idaho competition, Paxton wasn’t expecting anything. The winners were announced in a PowerPoint presentation, and when he saw that his name was listed with the words “First Place,” he didn’t have enough time to process it before the slide moved over to the next item.
“I’m sitting there with a couple of other kids and a teacher and was like ‘Did I just win?'” he explained.
After reaching out to the FCCLA for confirmation, it was clear that Paxton had indeed won and was going to nationals.
Paxton has already submitted his video for the national competition, but he’ll be attending in person because he was invited to a convention and award ceremony on July 1st.
Despite his passion for cooking, Paxton sees it as a hobby and is hoping to become a doctor one day. In fact, he recently got his CNA through the College of Eastern Idaho
“I really like to help people, and I just think (medicine) is really interesting,” he said. “I’m just going to go be a doctor and have a giant kitchen and then I’ll be able to eat whatever I cook.”
But according to Paxton’s mom, it isn’t surprising for Paxton to be involved in many different activities, and do pretty well at all of them.
In addition to all he’s accomplished, he also served as his student body vice president and plays on the school golf team.
“He does a lot of cool stuff that he would never tell you that he does,” Kami said. “He’s a pretty cool kid.”