The 2023 annual Florida High School Hospitality Competition, sponsored by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, was held in Orlando from March 4-7. Under the direction of instructor Paul Bonanno, students from Strawberry Crest High School competed, and Strawberry Crest finished overall in third place in the Florida ProStart Competition.
Bonanno is in his 11th year with Strawberry Crest. He studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and was the executive chef at Bernini in Ybor City prior to joining the faculty of Strawberry Crest.
ProStart is a culinary curriculum developed by the National Restaurant Association that trains high school students for careers in the culinary and hospitality industry. The competition runs in each state as part of the program, and students from across the state compete. This year, there were 37 schools represented at the state competition. There are four different events: the Culinary Competition, Management Competition, Waiters Relay Race and Edible Centerpiece.
In the Culinary Competition, Strawberry Crest placed second.
Bonanno explained, “This consists of five students, and they have one hour to prepare a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, entrée and dessert. They only get two butane camping burners to compete the meals. No ovens, no electric equipment; everything is made from scratch, and the recipes are solely created by the students.”
The students who competed in this were seniors Julian Alvarado, Emma Langston, Breanna May, Mayte Hernandez and Sydnie Gutierrez.
In the Management Competition, Strawberry Crest placed fourth.
Bonanno said, “Students form a team with up to five members; ours was three students. They basically create an original restaurant concept and create a template of that restaurant from the ground up. They must complete a written proposal, decor, design interior floor plans for the dining room and kitchen, marketing tactics and sample menu of 12 items. They then pitch their concept to a panel of judges a la Shark Tank style.”
Students in this category were junior Katya King and seniors Lauren Trotto and Conner Butler.
Daisy Silva-Bautista placed 11th in the Edible Centerpiece.
Students compete for scholarships to post-secondary culinary programs. This is based on the place they get.
Bonanno said, “Our students had the potential to earn scholarships and gained experience.”
Last year, Strawberry Crest placed first, and its culinary team represented Team Florida at the National Competition in Washington. The school’s team placed 11th in the nation. Bonanno said, “We have a very in depth and rigorous program that trains our kids for the industry straight out of high school.”