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Amelia Islander

Culinary Artists

Feb 09, 2017 09:40AM

Chef Michael Gass, Culinary Arts teacher at Fernandina Beach High School, prepares his team for the 2017 ProStart Competition in Orlando.

On March 3 and 4, four students from the Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) Culinary Arts program will cook like they’ve never cooked before at the 2017 ProStart Competition in Orlando, sponsored by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Since the end of January, the students have been honing their culinary skills as they prepare to produce a three-course gourmet meal in under 60 minutes.

“The four students were chosen because of their motivation, dedication, and ability to work as a team,” says Chef Michael Gass, FBHS Culinary Arts Teacher. “They came up with the menu and the recipes, and they have been working on this project since the beginning of the school year. In addition to the culinary crew, we’ll be sending four more students to compete in the waiter relay, in which each team must set a table with three different place setting styles and three different napkin folds.” The final push, however, will be the twelve or so practice sessions the students will use to perfect their dishes before the big competition in Orlando.

Participating students include Macy Waters, Zach Dinh, Jonah Schwend, and Tressa Glackin. Their three-course meal includes Fried Pickles with Cole Slaw, Garlic Chile Aioli, and Barbeque Pork Lardons; Pan-Seared Scallops with Andouille Macaroni-and-Cheese and Sautéed Greens; and for dessert, Avocado Chocolate Mouse with Raspberry Sauce, Aquafaba, and Spun Sugar. The students have certain limitations in the competition, as they are only provided with two small gas burners to cook on, with no electricity, no deep fryers, and no grill. That means that everything—from frying the pickles to whipping the mousse and aquafaba—must be done by hand, the way they have learned in their classes.

In their first practice session, students took turns working on the various dishes, learning to cook as a team, with everyone staying on task and no time wasted. Dinh works as an expeditor during the first session, making sure that the young chefs have everything at their fingertips. Chef Gass hovers over their work, making suggestions to them on how to perform a task better, or with more proficiency. From cleaning as they go, to completing each step properly, Gass conducts the practice session with stern kindness.

The Florida ProStart program began as a pilot program in the 1994-1995 school year; today, it is 238 schools strong. This directly correlates to the explosive growth of the foodservice industry, which was the original intention of the ProStart program founders, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). As the foodservice industry was growing, the NRAEF forecasted an alarming shortage of restaurant managers. ProStart was created to interest high school students in this diverse industry to head off these shortages.

ProStart is a nationwide, two-year program for high school students, which develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s industry leaders. From culinary techniques to management skills, ProStart’s industry-driven curriculum provides real-world educational opportunities and builds practical skills and a foundation that will last a lifetime.

“By bringing industry and the classroom together, ProStart gives students a platform to discover new interests and talents and opens doors to fulfilling careers,” says Chef Gass. “It all happens through a curriculum that teaches all facets of the restaurant and foodservice industry, inspires students to succeed, and sets a high standard of excellence for students and the industry.”

The Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner will take place on Saturday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando. All ProStart competition awards will be presented, along with Hospitality Excellence Awards, Pineapple Awards, and FRLAEF Scholarships.