Forsyth County students cooked up quite an honor recently at the annual ProStart culinary competition.
Students from South and West Forsyth high schools placed first and second, respectively, taking the top two spots for the culinary challenge.
South student Vicky Freyer also took home first place for the management competition for developing the best restaurant proposal.
South’s students then advanced to compete against about 40 other teams in the national competition this past weekend in Kansas, where the team finished third.
“The highest Georgia has ever gotten was 15th,” said Dawn Martin, career tech teacher at South Forsyth. “We put Georgia on the map.”
As for the state competition, Martin said it was “an amazing thing that Forsyth County won both first and second.”
“We are the first ones in the state of Georgia that won both the culinary and the management portion of this,” she said.
While her students didn’t attend nationals this year, West career tech teacher Dee Smith, said she’s proud of them for placing second.
The school has been competing for just three years. The first two, her students placed fourth.
“We’ve gone from fourth to second, so that was a big jump for being a very young program,” Smith said.
Next year, Smith said she’s eyeing first.
“We’ll have two returning students that will train two more members,” she said. “Students try out every year and they start out in October ... and then we practice until March to get ready.
“It gives new students who join the program the opportunity to compete.”
West will also be eligible to compete in the management portion of the event, which requires schools to have a three-year culinary program.
The cooking component of the recent state competition gave students one hour to prepare their dishes, but a second section also included a knife skills challenge.
Judges looked for consistency, safety, sanitation and other factors during the 30-minute segment.
Students also had to take a full chicken and break it down into eight pieces. They were judged on how well they cooled the chicken and how much waste was discarded.
For their menu, South students prepared pan-seared Caribbean spiced sea scallops, twice-cooked Jamaican jerk-style chicken and passion fruit vanilla bean panna cotta.
West students went with pan-seared peppered scallops with gremolatta-style couscous and orange gastrique, chicken torino with mushroom risotto and chocolate-composed key lime curd and fruit salsa.
“Most teachers started working on this in October,” Martin said. “The only thing you have to cook on are two single gas burners, no oven ... so it’s almost like a gourmet meal while you’re camping out.”
For Freyer, the management competition at state presented its own challenges, including a presentation to a panel of judges.
“When I got there, the morning of, I got really nervous and freaked out,” she said. “But when I got on stage, I kind of got calm and collected.”
Freyer’s slideshow worked out well, as did her verbal and PowerPoint presentation.
She said she was able to do such a thorough job because she spent so much time preparing. She also worked at Outback Steakhouse, on the floor as well as in the kitchen, which helped her train.
Freyer, who plans to attend Agnes Scott College in the fall, is thinking about going into management.
“If I don’t major in it, I’ll wind up minoring in it,” she said. “I believe in the restaurant business, I love hospitality and I love working with people.”
Martin said her South students were offered scholarship money to various culinary institutions.
During the national competition, she said they were able to “network with other students that are going to these culinary colleges and they made good contacts with chefs.”
Certified Executive Chef Daryl Shular helped coach the students for their competition.
At West, Smith’s students are striving for first-place scholarships.
“They’re very expensive post-secondary culinary institutions,” she said. “It’s also good for their resumes going into culinary schools.”
While her students don’t plan on giving up their title, Martin said South and West high schools work together.
“The only day we really compete is on this day, and we’re really happy when the other wins,” she said.