Invitational prepares students for restaurant business

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Eyes shut tight, Nathan Hall, Agron Mena and Trenton Shank gripped each other's hands as they waited to hear the winners of the National ProStart Invitational's management competition.

Moments later, they jumped from their seats, hugging parents and supporters as National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney announced their names.

"This is awesome," Shank exclaimed.

Shank and his teammates from Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Texas, each will receive $5,000 scholarships from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the Coca-Cola Co.

As the first-place culinary team, Erika Carsella, Lauryn Markle, Kylie Michaels, Brandon Ramirez and Keagan Kingery from Olathe Public Schools in Kansas also will receive $5,000 scholarships.

"We've been so dedicated and spent so many hours and tears and bonding," said Ramirez, who turned 18 Saturday.

Ramirez and Michaels, who plan to attend Johnson & Wales University in Denver, were members of Olathe's culinary team that placed second in the 2011 National ProStart Invitational.

"This feels so much better," Michaels said. "Our dishes were more technical and composed this year, and we worked more hours on creating the menu and brainstorming."

For its appetizer, the Olathe team prepared pink peppercorn and coriander-encrusted seared salmon with a vertical avocado marble in a toasted cumin and blood orange white butter sauce  and served it in a nest of micro grains and parmesan crisp. The entree was a pinenut-encrusted lamb duo with a roasted red pepper/balsamic reduction, Israeli couscous and a vegetable bouquetiere in a nest of micro greens. The dessert was a white chocolate bavarian with chocolate hazelnut mousse, hazelnut brittle, vanilla tuile, pulled sugar and raspberry coulis.

"They totally deserved to win," said Kealan O'Boyle, a former Olathe student who was at the National ProStart Invitational to recruit students for the New England Culinary Institute. "They completely earned it."

The first-place management team presented a hypothetical restaurant concept called "Son of a Biscuit." The fullservice, casual dining operation would serve only breakfast and lunch because "everyone loves breakfast," Shank said.

Mena said he thought his team stood out because they made the judges laugh. Plus, the team handled critical thinking questions well, Hall said. Judges asked the boys what they would do if certain equipment wasn't working and how would they handle a sudden crowd when sporting events got out.

All three of the Byron Nelson students are juniors, and they said they planned to join their school's ProStart management team next year. But they also want to try the culinary competition, Hall said.

Joe Taylor, a member of the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors and NRAEF Board of Trustees, said he was impressed when he observed the Son of a Biscuit presentation. The boys brought a lot of energy to the presentation and showed passion and commitment to their concept, said Taylor, vice president, corporate affairs, Brinker International.

"They are going to be great restaurateurs down the road," he said. "We couldn't be prouder of them."

More than 350 students from nearly every state, Guam and Puerto Rico competed in the National ProStart Invitational. Members of the top five culinary and management teams received more than $1.3 million in scholarships from NRAEF and several colleges.

The other winning teams are:

Second place: Culinary, Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, Michigan; management, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Maryland.

Third place: Culinary, Polaris Career Center, Ohio; management, Rayne High School, Louisiana.

Fourth place: Culinary, South Salem High School, Oregon; management, Bergen County Academies, New Jersey.

Fifth place: Culinary, Oak Harbor High School, Washington State; management, Eastside High School, Florida.


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