The Rockwall ISD Culinary Team recently took first place in the national ProStart competition, from among 46 other teams.
Team members include Ramsey Anderson (RHS), Rachel Bristow (RHS), Maddie Demien (RHS), Preslie Mann (RHHS) and Layton Ray (RHHS).
The ProStart competition is comprised of two divisions: the restaurant management division – in which the RISD team won the national championship in 2014 - and the cooking division, in which they won third place in 2017 and second place in 2018, before finally winning it all in 2019.
“For these students to do what they had done is amazing in itself but it’s so much more than that,” said Chef Cody Hayes. “I tell them you can't just be a national champion one day; you have to be a national champion every single day and that's really what they are doing.”
The team was challenged with creating a three-course meal within 60 minutes without the use of electrical equipment. They have to make everything by hand and they only have two portable butane burners to do it all.
“We practice with different brands of butane burners because we've learned that different brands have different amounts of power and we didn't know exactly what type was going to be given to us to cook on,” said Preslie Mann, team captain and senior at Rockwall-Heath High School. “It really does change how the food turns out within that 60-minute time frame and if you are over even 15 seconds, that’s a quarter of a point, and in a national championship, that’s a big deal.”
They have to create two identical five-star meals, one for the judges and one to display, as well as a recipe booklet. They are also judged on their knife skills and teamwork by a team of 10 to 15 judges who roam around the kitchen and peer over shoulders.
The team can’t have any assistance from their teacher, Chef Cody Hayes, who nervously waits on the sidelines.
“I cannot talk to them at all so normally what I'm doing is pacing back and forth, biting my fingernails,” Hayes said. “Sometimes my wife will go on Facebook Live and film it for everybody and there have been times I've been so nervous, where I'm out in the hallway just watching on my phone, because it's just very intense.”
The makeup of the team is different every single year depending on everyone's strengths and weaknesses. Preslie has been the team captain since she earned the spot last year. She specializes in desserts, but says she decided to switch roles this year to make the team as strong as it could be.
“I really appreciate the fact that she was going to kind of go out of her comfort zone,” said Hayes. “She naturally gravitates toward baking and pastry and this year she did a filet mignon and lobster with a red wine reduction sauce, and it turned out beautifully.”
The team manager and timer is an important role for which Layton Ray, junior at Rockwall-Heath High School, has been tasked.
Even though he's not necessarily cooking, each person works hand-in-hand with Layton because they have a timeline down to the second.
For example, Layton will give a teammate a 30-second warning when a pot of water needs to be on the flame and another 15-second warning for when it needs to be covered.
“To get the times that specific, it took months of preparation,” said Ramsey Anderson, junior from Rockwall High School. “You think everything's going to go exactly as planned, but it never does, so we learn to overcome challenges we may face.”
This summer, the culinary team will cook at the Texas Restaurant Association trade show - the second largest trade show in the country - and do a fundraiser for Texas ProStart as well. All the funds raised go to Texas Pro Start and will impact students all over Texas.
They will be auctioning off a private dinner for 10 to be cooked by the National Champion Rockwall ISD Culinary Team, with bidding starting at $10,000.