A group of students from South and West Forsyth high schools are spending their spring break preparing for a trip to Baltimore, Md.
They’re sharpening knife skills, reviewing business plans and cooking for friends and family, all in preparation for the National ProStart Invitational culinary competition.
Both schools recently took first place at state in two categories, the culinary challenge at South and culinary management at West.
The schools will represent Georgia during the national competition April 27.
West’s state win was uncharted territory for the school, which came in second for the cooking portion last year.
“This is the first year that West has actually submitted a team in the management competition,” said Dee Smith, West culinary teacher. “I actually just wanted us to learn more about the competition and, lo and behold, these kids won.
“I anticipated them placing and doing well just because of their presentation skills, but they really put in the extra effort. I was so proud of them.”
The culinary management competition involves no cooking, Smith said. With the help of a mentor, the students create a menu and its pricing, design the menu’s graphics and test different items through a faculty survey.
The students also had to chart how different jobs in the restaurant would be handled. They came up with a floor plan, costing worksheets and a plan to market the restaurant concept to the public.
“They had to do a 10 minute presentation … along with the 30-page written proposal they had to submit,” Smith said. “Everything it takes to open a restaurant, we had to show it.”
J.T Cropper, Mikayla Dickey, Claire Kelly and Connor McKinlay were selected for West’s team from the school’s 127 culinary students.
Smith said narrowing students was a difficult process, but “I selected students first that had an interest in hospitality and are good business presenters … that are interested in pursuing this as a career.”
“These are over-achievers, self-motivated and will have a good rapport with adults in the industry,” she said.
A first-place state culinary award is nothing new for the students on South Forsyth teacher Dawn Martin’s culinary team.
“At this point, a lot is expected of us and we’re just trying to shine more and impress people,” said team co-captain Marin Wijma. “We had fantastic co-captains last year and so we just wanted to live up to their expectations so that we could carry our team to nationals.”
Last year, South became the first in the state to win both culinary and management first-place awards.
Wijma and co-captain Mia Kosko were on the winning culinary team last year, which went on to place third at the national competition. They learned from their mentors and are now hoping to lead team members Joshua Andrews, Jamey Brazier and alternate Aaron Woodmansee to national victory.
Kosko said the key is appearing calm.
“Everybody gets stressed. But you just have to keep on smiling through it, because if you don’t, the rest of our team says ‘Oh no, they’re our two co-captains, if they’re worried we should be worried,’” Kosko said.
“[It] challenges you a bit more and has you working under a bit more stressful circumstances. But that might be the same for a high class restaurant where you’re trying to make a five-star cuisine,” she added.
Kosko said she plans to enter a career in plate design and food photography, but for Wijma, “I would just love to be in any kitchen in a five-star restaurant.”
The students give credit to their instructor and her course.
“This class is giving us all the skills we need to know to do well in the industry and providing us with the opportunities to meet chefs to help us achieve our goals,” Wijma said. “[Martin] just opens us up to so many opportunities and we’re eternally grateful for what she’s done for us.”