Local students compete in culinary/hospitality competition

Aspiring chefs and event planners tested their skills at the Orange County Public Schools Hospitality & Culinary Competition Jan. 23.

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  • | 10:45 p.m. January 29, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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These students can take the heat — and that’s exactly why they’re staying in the kitchen.

More than 300 students tested their skills in the culinary arts and hospitality at the Orange County Public Schools Hospitality & Culinary Competition Thursday, Jan. 23, at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

Among them were students from Ocoee High School, Windermere High School and Orange Technical College’s Westside Campus.

The event gave aspiring chefs and event managers the chance to gain real-world experience as they competed for awards under the watch of professionals acting as judges.



About 20 students from Ocoee High School’s culinary arts classes showed up to compete in numerous events, including challenges for gourmet meal, dessert and knife skills.

Jason Carlucci, the instructor of Ocoee High’s cooking classes, said the annual event  always is an exciting opportunity for the students, adding that it’s the culmination of a cooking journey.

“The whole thing is a learning experience,” he said. “I always talk to them about getting better every day — giving your best effort every day. That’s what I want them to do here. I want them to experience the thrill and excitement of cooking. This is a reward for them, because we’ve been working on this dish. We talk a lot about that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey — the journey is what matters and all the things we learn.”

Students in the program will focus on the same dish for months on end to tweak it and make it just right for the judges leading up to the competition. That’s been the case for Ocoee High students Riahna Nichols and Rultz Bonne-Annee, who were looking to perfect their dessert — a chocolate mousse and vanilla flavored marshmallow fluff with peanuts, topped with potato chip and pretzel toffee. The sweet and salty treat won best-tasting dessert last year but fell short on plating, so the duo made some slight adjustments this time around.

“In my eyes, a dish is never truly finished — you’re always learning, you’re always working on it, you’re always tweaking,” Carlucci said.

The event not only gives the students a place to meet other high schoolers in similar programs, it can even lead to a career. Carlucci said some of his students were offered jobs at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek last year.

“Winning is great, but getting these kids jobs in an industry they love and they’re passionate about is the important thing,” Carlucci said.

Ocoee High students walked away with some accolades they can be proud of, including a second-place finish for gourmet meal by students Anthony Feacher, Kameron Peterson and Kelvin Vo.

Vo, who also took first place in a spice identification challenge, said he dreams of one day opening his own restaurant — and that the culinary competition gave him an awesome experience.

“You get the chance to do what you love and cook in front of all of the judges that you will be feeding eventually once you get out of high school and you get into the industry,” Vo said. “It’s a great mind opener.”



Students from Windermere High School, meanwhile, mainly appeared in multiple hospitality challenges, including non-edible arrangement, marketing and event planning.

Heather Kelly, the hospitality and tourism teacher at Windermere High, said she hopes the students learn more about the industry while having fun competing.

“I hope they learn about all the different paths that they can take — there are so many different opportunities for jobs,” Kelly said. 

Windermere High School student Madeliene Empric quickly got plates to her team’s table during the waiters’ relay.
Windermere High School student Madeliene Empric quickly got plates to her team’s table during the waiters’ relay.

Students Kayla West, Madeliene Empric and Ola Mahmoud competed in a culinary event — waiters’ relay, where they were tasked with quickly and accurately putting together an American table setting, a French table setting and a Russian table setting. 

Even knowing the small details about fork and knife placement can be helpful in the long run for landing a job in the industry, Kelly said.

“Food and beverage is the largest sector in hospitality,” she said. “This will take them through life, especially in Central Florida — there’s so many different opportunities for them to use what they’ve learned.”

Student Enzzo Lima showed his presentation skills when he won first place for non-edible centerpiece arrangement. His creation was inspired by the city of Orlando, featuring flowers, oranges and small signs sporting logos for Disney, Pulse nightclub and other recognizable symbols that sum up Orlando.

“My mom has a tourism agency and she always told me, ‘Follow my steps,’” Lima said. “Now that I got to high school, I had the opportunity, so I took the class and I’m getting really interested in it. Ms. Kelly is an awesome teacher and I get a lot of information from her.”

Windermere High School walked away with some serious hardware, as it won first place overall hospitality champion.


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