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.