High school restaurateurs advance to national culinary competition

04/01/2014 11:26 AM

04/01/2014 1:09 PM

Byron Bistro’s Stephen DeShazo says he would put his student culinary team against any professional chef around.

DeShazo, the culinary arts facilitator at Northwest ISD’s Academy of Culinary Arts & Hospitality, is preparing the team for its third visit to the National ProStart Invitational in Minneapolis in May.

In March, the NISD culinary team placed first in the Texas ProStart Invitational in Waco for the second year in a row. The Texas ProStart Invitational in Waco.

The team included students Lora Bardal, Ruben Nunez, Nathan Young, Cassaundra Bayot and Emily Baker. The culinary teams had to prepare a three-course meal in an hour and were judged on knife skills, chicken fabrication, safety and sanitation.

To help prepare for competition, the students run their own restaurant called Byron Bistro inside Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club. Students in the Practicum in Culinary Arts class run the kitchen while students in the Hospitality Services class manage the front of the house, which seats 46 and serves faculty, staff and community members.

“We’re one of the highest-performing culinary programs in the nation,” DeShazo said. “This facility simulates the industry and all of its moving parts and teaches the kids how to multitask.”

In the kitchen, some students chop onions, make desserts, warm tortillas and create artistic dishes to serve to guests. As they work, Chef Joseph Maher keeps them moving quickly, offering words of wisdom and suggestions.

Teachers line up out the door to get a table and enjoy recipes made by the students themselves, including Greek salads, carnita tacos, coconut flan, and strawberry and cinnamon lemonade. Line cooks also box and bag to-go orders bought online.

“The secret to being a national team and being successful is coming together as team members,” culinary student Nathan Young said. “Anyone can cook, but not everyone has the attitude and puts as much love into it as we do.”

The team placed sixth in last year’s national competition, which pitted it against more than 40 teams. Young says they get regulars from the community coming in every week for lunch.

Byron Bistro’s hospitality team won the national championship three years ago. Junior hospitality student Brooke Otto said her experience working the front of the house has been crucial to her understanding of the industry.

“I feel at my best in the front, helping people,” she said. “We rotate doing different things, hosting or waiting tables and such, but I love hosting.”

Sitting down for lunch at the Byron Bistro, guests can hear the clangs and clatters of dishes being served, and watch as students serve quickly and efficiently while also making their guests feel welcome and invited. It’s easy to forget you’re in a classroom of sorts.

Culinary student Emily Baker, who was a part of the national competition last year, said she loves the work she does and is ready for competition again this year.

“Competition is a chaotic atmosphere, but it’s really a competition against yourself,” Emily said. “It’s a great way to show your skills.”

Baker said she dreams of traveling the world and experiencing international cuisines.

The menu at Byron Bistro changes weekly. Byron Bistro is open every Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Byron Nelson High School.

—Mark Wright contributed to this report

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