A few years ago they were dropping out of school, but Thursday they stood proudly behind lavish tables filled with silver, candles and cuisine from around the world.

About 72 young men and women attended the ninth annual U.S. Department of Labor's Job Corps Food Fair at Salt Lake Community College Thursday afternoon. Teams from culinary-arts programs at 12 Job Corps centers in seven Western and Mid-western states were asked to prepare a meal from scratch, Barbara Aikens, coordinator of the program, said.After four hours of preparation, the teams - including one from each of Utah's two Job Corps centers - stood silently as judges from the Beehive Chef's Chapter Inc. inspected their work.

"For only having three or four months training they are doing pretty good. But they have a long way to go to be a chef," said judge Roger Cortello, a chef at Salt Lake's LeParisien Restaurant.

Decked in costumes that matched their selection of cuisine, members of the Clearfield Job Corps Center team spent the day preparing German food including Beef Rouladen and Paprika Chicken. They placed first after losing the title at last year's competition.

Team members from Weber Basin Job Corps Center in South Weber spent their time cooking with a Hawaiian theme.

Other teams cooked food from throughout America, others cooked Mexican and one even highlighted Utah in its menu. Hoping to win over local judges hearts they made "Utah Broil" and "Chicken Provo" on a mirrored table made to imitate the Great Salt Lake.

After the competition, the food was served to about 300 guests.

All of the teams were required to use only simple ingredients, including two pieces of meat - top-round and chicken breast. The teams were evaluated on quality, cooking techniques, originality, work habits, attitude, sanitation and the ability to work with others. Each team member also took a written test.

"Some of the other displays are really impressive . . . We only had two weeks to prepare. We got a new head cook and they were rebuilding the kitchen," explained Weber Basin team member Jonathan Nash.

Nash, a native of Boston who has been at the Job Corps center for three months, said team members were selected because they were tops in the culinary arts program.

Most of the team had been training for the competition for four months. Among the students at the Jobs Corps centers the competition takes on the prestige that a football game might at other schools, said Don Myrtle, director of the Clearfield Center.

"The other kids are really excited about it. They all wanted to be part of the team," said Beverly Little, instructor with the culinary arts program at Clearfield.

Other winners in the competition included teams from Excelsior Springs Job Corps Center in Excelsior Springs, Miss., second; Denison Job Corps Center in Denison, Iowa; and Kicking Horse Job Corps Center in Ronan, Mont., fourth.