Newport Harbor team taking restaurant management plan to national contest

Student chef and team leader Natalia Tortorello cooks seared ahi in her Newport Harbor culinary class on Friday.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

A team from Newport Harbor High School will represent California in a national competition in Dallas, where 350 students will test their skills in cooking or restaurant management.

The 2016 National ProStart Cup, presented by the National Restaurant Assn. Educational Foundation, will run April 29 through May 1.

Newport Harbor’s three-member restaurant management team consists of Ali Millar, Natalia Tortorello and Rocio Antonio, all students in the school’s Culinary Arts Academy. They qualified for the national contest after taking first place in the 14th annual California ProStart Cup’s management competition March 12 and 13 in Sacramento.

More than 20 schools participated in the California tournament, which, like the national event, features competitions in restaurant management and culinary arts.

“The Newport Harbor High School all-girl team impressed the California competition judges with their poise, concept and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Alycia Harshfield, executive director of the California Restaurant Assn. Educational Foundation.

Student teams spent months developing ideas for restaurant businesses before the California management contest.

The Newport Harbor team started cooking up concepts in November for its hypothetical restaurant, called Tidal.

“It was a lot of time with us just sitting at a table, grooming over every aspect of the restaurant,” said Natalia, a senior. “We had to know our marketing tactics, floor plan, interior design and menu items. We even know every herb that would go into our food.”

At the Sacramento competition, the aspiring restaurateurs presented their business proposal to judges who are corporate executives and master chefs.

“We wanted our concept to be different, so we chose to do fine dining, where we’d have a combination of steak and seafood,” said Rocio, a senior.

Newport Harbor bested teams from the Orange County School of the Arts, which took second place, and San Diego High School, which placed third.

“We were surprised we won, but also really happy,” Rocio said.

The team drew inspiration from upscale locations such as The Winery Restaurant and even some concepts the members saw on Pinterest.

The Newport Harbor girls are now fine-tuning their proposal for the national competition.

“We’re taking any feedback we can get right now by going to local restaurants and asking their owners or their chefs for advice,” said Ali, a junior.