The aroma of raw crab and funnel cakes fills the air inside a classroom at Roosevelt High School. The hustle and bustle of students in the cooking class doesn't distract the student team from practicing their craft for this year's Washington Restaurant Association (WRA) Education Foundation's ProStart Invitational. The competition will take place Saturday, March 24, and Sunday, March 25, at South Seattle Community College.
This year, culinary and nutrition teacher Carolyn Garthwaite will take seniors Romesh Rao, Joe Bravo and Nhan Nguyen and sophomore Alex Kong, all of whom will compete in the hot-foods competition.
Preparing for competition
The teams come from 29 high schools around the state. Students must prepare a three-course meal in less than 60 minutes, without the use of conventional cooking equipment such as electricity. The only source of heat is two portable butane burners.
All food must be prepared by hand, and once the food is taken from the refrigerator, they are not allowed to use it again and must come up with an alternate way to keep food cold.
The meal must consist of a protein, a starch and a vegetable. The third course must be dessert, which according to Garthwaite, is the most difficult part.
"It is amazing what students come up with every year," said Garthwaite, who has taken a Roosevelt team to the invitational since its inception seven years ago. "They are so creative."
This year, the team will make crab cakes for an appetizer, pasta and steak for the entree and funnel cake with apples for dessert.
"We may change the crab cakes to shrimp, though," Garthwaite said. "It will be quicker, and they only have an hour to do all of this."
The excited Roosevelt team has been preparing for the competition for six weeks. They will be judged on creativity, technique, flavor, presentation, texture, nutritional balance and sanitation.
"I expect to see some really great talent this year," Garthwaite said of the competition.
Garthwaite selected the students for the team based on their individual interest in cooking and how much time they can dedicate to practice. "It takes a lot if time to prepare for this," she explained.
Team members are usually juniors or seniors. However, Garthwaite will include sophomores, such as Kong, who have a great interest in the culinary field.
"I grew up in the food industry. My parents own a restaurant, so I kind of got thrown into it," Kong said as he cracked and de-shelled a whole crab. Kong is considering running his family's Italian restaurant, Perché No, located in North Seattle, after high school.
Many students from the ProStart program who competed in the invitational have gone on to successful careers in the industry, according to Garthwaite. Two of her students have gone on to attend Western Culinary Institute, where Bravo will go this August; two others graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York; and yet another is now working in London, she said.
A CULINARYARTS PROGRAM
The ProStart Invitational is part of a two-year program aimed at helping high school students who are interested in the culinary industry. The program, which is in 50 schools throughout the state, was created by the National Restaurant Association and is managed locally by the WRA Education Foundation in partnership with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Along with the hot-food team, Garthwaite is taking a team to compete in the knowledge-bowl portion of the competition. Students are tested on nutrition, terminology, career, business and other aspects of the restaurant industry.
The scores are added up, and the top eight teams go on to compete in a verbal quiz the next day, in much the same style as "Jeopardy," according to Garthwaite.
As with the hot-food team, the winner of this competition goes on to nationals, where they will compete for scholarships.
Romesh Rao will compete in this section of the invitational, along with Daniel Andrews, Amanda Wellman and Alexander Cramer.
"Cooking is more of a hobby for me," Rao said while carefully chopping apples for the funnel cake. "I really like to cook, though."
Romesh is the captain of the knowledge-bowl team and co-captain with Kong on the hot-food team.
Roosevelt won first place for the first three years of the invitational, but according to Garthwaite, they haven't fared as well in recent years.
"As more schools entered and the competition got harder, we haven't done as well," Garthwaite said.
This year's team, however, isn't intimidated by the competition. "We're not cocky, though," Nguyen explained. "Just not that nervous."