Wanderlust Kitchen

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You have 10 minutes to pitch an idea for a new restaurant, a soup-to-nuts plan that must cover everything from budget and menu to floor-space planning. It’s not a script for TV’s “Shark Tank;” it’s College Station High School culinary students filling up the menu board with ideas for their Wanderlust Kitchen project.

By Cassidy Tyrone

You have 10 minutes to pitch an idea for a new restaurant, a soup-to-nuts plan that must cover everything from budget and menu to floor-space planning. It’s not a script for TV’s “Shark Tank;” it’s College Station High School culinary students filling up the menu board with ideas for their Wanderlust Kitchen project.

“Our biggest success has been competing in ProStart,” CSHS senior Kiahna Butterfield says. “In a year we have come so far.

Students of the culinary arts program at College Station High School participated in the 2015 ProStart Invitational placing fourth in both the management and culinary competitions. If the students are successful at the state finals, they will go on to compete in the National ProStart Invitational April 18-20 at the Disneyland Hotel.

This is CSHS’ second year competing in the ProStart program. Catherine Parsi, CSHS culinary arts instructor, says the program has grown immensely from their first competition, transforming from an amateur attempt to a professional standard of work. This year, a mere eight points separated CSHS from first place.

 “We teach cooking to a professional industry standard,” Parsi says, gesturing at the bustling professional kitchen equipped with an abundance of culinary tools and industrial ranges.

The management competition gives students the opportunity to experience what it is like to build a restaurant from the ground-up, Parsi says. Teams of four students present a 10-minute pitch to a panel of judges. The pitch includes a comprehensive explanation of the restaurant including marketing strategies, a floor plan, design swatches, and a menu.

 “It is basically like Shark Tank,” Parsi says. “They go in and pitch their restaurant concept and get feedback from the judges.”

The CSHS students, inspired by their instructor Parsi, have named their fictional restaurant Wanderlust Kitchen. Wanderlust Kitchen draws influence from the cuisine of Italy, Greece, France, Spain, and Tunisia. With the tag line “Explore the world through food” students aim for a fast-casual dining experience that delves into the array of rich spices of the Mediterranean region.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” CSHS junior Skylar Bryan says. “It’s not just one person telling everyone else what to do. It is everyone’s ideas, which is also the hard part.”

In the culinary competition, a team of students is given one hour to cook a three-course meal. Teams are not allowed any electricity and only two burners to cook the meal. Students submit a book detailing each course and cost sheets for their ingredients. Two plates of each course are presented. Both plates must be identical to one another and to the picture submitted in the book. The teams are judged on knife skills, safety and sanitation, cooking technique, plating and presentation, and taste.

“The judging is very particular,” Parsi says. “They nitpick you if they think you will advance to the next level of competition. They want you to improve.”

The CSHS culinary team faced an additional challenge at this year’s competition when a last-minute turn of events forced an alteration on the team. The alternate had no experience cooking the three-course meal. Through a show of coordination and skill, the team was able to finish the meal with only a few minor mistakes.

Parsi says one of the most beneficial aspects of the competition is the access it gives students to influential members of the culinary community. These mentors offer real-world advice and afford students an invaluable networking opportunity.

To be eligible to join the competitive teams, students must take a year of Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness classes and join the Culinary I class. Students may then move on to Advanced Culinary. Students gain practice by catering teacher luncheons and school functions, and also participating in local competitions and events. CSHS took first in this year’s Taste of Aggieland competition.

 “It’s been a confidence booster,” CSHS senior Jayme Holden says. “I kept trying to find my niche. Everyone knew what they wanted to do, but I just couldn’t stick with sports. I was amazed at how much there was to do with food.”

Two students’ competitive success has led them to receive a full scholarship to culinary school, the equivalent of $100,000.

While many students will go on to culinary school with dreams of being chefs and restaurant managers, some seek to attend university and put their skills toward other business and hospitality professions.

However bright their future, the students are focused on the challenge of preparing for future competition and enjoying the remainder of their time in high school.

“Every day is an adventure,” Bryan says. “That’s for sure.”