OCSA makes the cut at California Restaurant Foundation’s 2023 ProStart Cup
Trinity Wiideman, Ryan Okajima, Christian Lopez, Aurelia Carrie and Hannah Dromgoole excitedly arranged three dishes on an oval tray in front of the judges at the California Restaurant Foundation’s 2023 ProStart Cup at the Long Beach Convention Center on March 7. Wearing white chef coats and flushed faces, the team of culinary students from the Orange County School of the Arts had just completed the three-course cooking competition portion of the day.
“We worked really hard to get to today,” said Wiideman, “and it came out amazing.”
The two-day competition brought together 250 California high school students to compete for $500,000 in scholarships. Besides OCSA, participating Orange County schools included Fountain Valley, Fullerton Union, Newport Harbor, Rancho Alamitos and Valley high schools.
“All of the students are part of the ProStart program,” said Alycia Harshfield, the executive director of the California Restaurant Foundation, “which is a national culinary art and restaurant management training curriculum and program. It is where they are learning in the classroom, in their California public high school, all about food and careers in food service and hospitality.”
Collectively, the competition represents the future of California’s restaurant and food service industries, and students have the opportunity to network and meet with college and university representatives during the Career & College Expo also taking place at the competition.
The competition itself is broken down into two categories.
“It is a cooking and restaurant entrepreneurship competition that has really multiple events within an event,” said Harshfield.
There is a culinary team competition, where two to five students have one hour to create an appetizer, entree and dessert. But before they even begin cooking, the judging begins.
“They are judged on how they have properly and safely packed their food, so it gets temped by a set of judges,” said Harshfield.
They are also required to demonstrate knife skills and cost out all their recipes.
“It is really wonderful to see what the students create,” said Harshfield. “I would say the majority of the plates are the kind of plates you would see at a high-end restaurant.”
The OCSA culinary team worked together to prepare a seared scallop appetizer with a lemon tarragon pea foam, seared bistro filet with celery root puree entree and a “fallen” apple dessert with caramel mousse.
Okajima said he most enjoyed preparing the appetizer and creating the pea foam for the dish.
“You take a milk solution or a just solution overall, reduce it, add xanthan gum and charge it in one of those iSi chargers with CO2, which creates a light and airy foam,” said Okajima.
Carrie said the most challenging part was setting the mousse for the dessert on time.
“Since there was no freezer, we had to do a makeshift compartment of ice and salt,” Carrie said, which made making sure the dessert held its shape a little more stressful.
“We had to adjust our recipe completely … there was lots and lots of trial and error,” said Carrie.
The second category of the competition is restaurant entrepreneurship.
“It is a team event as well,” said Harshfield, “and they develop and present a business plan for a new restaurant concept, and they pitch it to a panel of judges.”
Students create a business plan that is printed and presented to the judges as well as a PowerPoint presentation.
While the pressure for the cooking round happens during the competition, Newport Harbor student Kylie Papa said the pressure in the entrepreneurship competition happens beforehand, during preparation.
“Management is a totally different facet,” said Papa, who competed in the culinary competition last year, taking first place with her team, “because it is less about what we are cooking in front of the judges and more about how we take the food and surround it with all the different dimensions it takes to get that food to customers.”
Papa, along with teammates Duke Caperon, Trixie Kulik and Jeffrey Dangl, presented a Polynesia restaurant concept called Archipelago for the entrepreneurship competition.
“I personally think it is a type of cuisine that isn’t being tackled by anyone,” said Caperon. “I think it is important that it gets a light shone on it.”
Event sponsors also put on two just-for-fun contests: Wienerschnitzel’s Dress Your Dog competition and Idaho Potatoes Loaded Potato competition.
“They are basically creating a topping for a hot dog and a potato,” said Harshfield.
OCSA took home first place in the culinary competition and also won first place in the Dress Your Dog competition and Loaded Potato competition. OCSA placed second in entrepreneurship competition, and Fullerton Union placed third. The top teams in the Management and Culinary Cups will now go on to represent California at the National ProStart Student Invitational in Washington, D.C. in May.
“What I love about this ProStart competition is it is a chance for students to showcase their skills, their talents, their creativity and their passion,” Harshfield said. “Like those that are in band, or choir, or drama or football, they have their platform for showcasing their talents. This ProStart competition gives that to the students that are interested in food.”
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