The menu was planned weeks in advance.
To start, the chefs in training whipped up leek fritters with cranberry ketchup and chipotle aioli. Next, they seared a duck breast with parsnip puree and a spicy berry sauce. A deconstructed lemon curd completed the meal.
The cooks, from South Hills High School in Fort Worth, were competing Saturday at the Texas ProStart Invitational, a culinary competition among high school students, at the Hurst Conference Center.
“We were going for something French-inspired,” said Jonathan Lopez, 17, a senior at South Hills. “We wanted our menu to be a little different, sort of unique.”
ProStart drew some 200 students from 28 high schools in North Texas and across the state to compete in one of two challenges: the culinary competition or restaurant management. The top six teams in each category advanced to the state competition in March in Waco.
Wendy Saari, a spokeswoman for the Texas Restaurant Association, said the competition gives students the opportunity to put their classroom training to real-life use.
“You can learn how to sear a steak in a classroom,” Saari said. “But here, they are learning how to do this in a fast-paced restaurant environment. They are basically the line cooks.”
In the culinary competition, four-member teams were required to fabricate a chicken, which means cutting a whole bird into eight pieces, and demonstrate knife skills, from quickly mincing garlic to chiffonading basil. Each team then had one hour to produce an entire meal, including appetizer, entree and dessert, with only one gas burner.
For most teams, time management proved the biggest challenge.
“Finishing the entire meal in under an hour is the hardest part,” said Carmen Castro, 18, a senior at South Hills. “It takes a lot of teamwork and communication. Every minute counts.”
A team from Trimble Tech High School planned a menu of pan-fried leeks with a poached egg and tomato concasse with a cilantro relish, Spanish ratatouille with pan-seared scallops, homemade pasta and a sherry tarragon sauce and crepes with a chipotle-Nutella sauce and clementine compote.
Completing the meal requires teamwork, said Randy Mier, 17, a junior at Trimble Tech who hopes to own his own restaurant one day.
“When you cook together, you become a team,” Mier said. “Really, you become like a family.”
“The kitchen is a high-stress environment, and you learn to thrive in that,” said Melissa Martinez, 17, also a Trimble Tech junior. Martinez wants to own a pastry business eventually.
Competitors got an unexpected challenge Saturday. When they arrived in the morning, they learned that all the food had frozen overnight in a refrigerated truck. Team members went shopping for additional supplies while some of the food thawed, delaying the competition several hours.
“The restaurant business requires you to think on your feet,” Saari said. “This is no different.”
In the restaurant management competition, students created detailed business plans for mock restaurants, wrote menus, planned building layouts and devised marketing plans.
Kyle Chase, 16, and Jason Ready, 17, both juniors at Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, created a restaurant called Home Dawgz, a baseball-themed sports grill that specializes in top-quality hot dogs.
“It’s hard to find good quality hot dogs, and there’s really no reason for that,” Ready said. “So we are using high-quality hot dogs rather than processed ingredients.”
“We want this to be a gathering place in our community,” Chase added. “You can connect with anybody over a good plate of food.”