PCSD Culinary Arts Program Finishes Seventh In The Nation At ProStart Invitational

(L-R) Chef Instructor Christie Gibbons, senior Veronica Coyne, junior Kristine Zajac, senior Kaylee Headrick, senior Jordyn Piotrowski, senior Javier Boras and Chef Instructor Iann Johnson at ProStart National Competition in Rhode Island. 

The Normandy Culinary Arts program has always been a source of pride for the PCSD and for our three communities. Now, the Culinary Arts program has another reason to celebrate, as they were recently named a top 10 team at the National Prostart Invitational, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.  The Invitational was held this year in Providence, Rhode Island, from April 27-29. Getting to the National Invitational was not easy. Teams from across the United States first competed in a statewide ProStart competition. Only the top finishing teams from each state are granted the opportunity to compete at the National Invitational. In Ohio, the state ProStart competition was held in Columbus at the end of February.

The Normandy Culinary Arts competition team featured five PCSD students who were tasked with creating a three-course meal for the ProStart judges. Competing this year on behalf of the PCSD were seniors Javier Boras, Veronica Coyne, Kaylee Headrick and Jordyn Piotrowski along with junior Kristine Zajac. All of these students attend Parma Senior High School. The Culinary Arts students chose “A Taste of Asia” as their theme for their three-course meal. According to Chef Instructor Iann Johnson, the dishes included “a play” on Peking Duck, a Chilean Sea Bass dish, a fig and pistachio salad along with Chai Tea Panna Cotta for dessert.

The judges literally ate it up. The Normandy Culinary Arts team was awarded first place in Ohio for their Asian inspired creations. Culinary Arts also beat out Polaris Career Center from Middleburg Heights, who had won the state competition the last eight years in a row. Polaris also was also the defending, back-to-back national champion. “I was going into nationals kind of unsure of what the competition level was going to be,” Johnson said. “I felt rather confident though because Polaris had done so well in the past. And that gave me a pretty good gauge of what the other teams might look like, how they cook, how they might work.”

Leading up to the Ohio competition, the Culinary Arts program spent numerous hours after school preparing and practicing the process to create their dishes. After their state win, the team doubled down and continued to painstakingly practice.  Johnson estimates they spent at least 100 hours practicing. “For states, we definitely were really serious and really focused. We knew what our goal was,” Johnson added. “When it came to the national competition, we just took everything we did and tightened it up...Everything is just at a higher level.”

The team had to bring their own equipment and some ingredients to the national competition which created some unique logistical challenges. In the end, the team settled in for competition as they would square off against 46 other schools from around the U.S.

In a random drawing, the Normandy Culinary Arts team was one of the first to compete. For Johnson, the early drawing was both a positive and a negative. A positive was that the team could just go out and cook, as opposed to seeing the competition ahead of time. However, a negative was that the judges still had many dishes to taste and would have higher expectations as the competition went along. However, Johnson felt the team performed very well and set a very high standard for others to follow. “I think the kids came out and set the bar really high for all the other groups,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of instructors coming up to me at the end and comment on how well they did and how impressed they were to see them work. Especially since we were a first year team at nationals. So I was really proud of how they did.”

In the end, the Normandy Culinary Arts team finished seventh overall in the nation.  The top ten finish is a testament to the talent, commitment and perseverance of both the students and the instructors during the course of the entire year. The students walked away with over $100,000 in scholarships from the state competition and $3,500 in scholarships from their finish at the National Invitational. “This is one of the most dedicated groups that I’ve had over the last ten years,” Johnson said of his seniors. “The time, the effort and their attention to detail. How much they care about not only the competition, but it’s evident when the program is up and running. When the restaurant is busy and the kitchen is going, they’re always the ones that will do that little extra stuff. They’ve been very impressive and I’m definitely going to miss this group, for sure.” 

Amy Popik

Communications Coordinator, Parma City School District

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 12:36 PM, 06.02.2018