Kasen Hobson, Julie Bowman, Miriam Mendez, and Colton Huddleston – mostly seniors at Slocum High School – had never taken culinary arts classes or competed against other culinary marketing teams. That didn't stop them from placing sixth at a regional competition in Frisco, sponsored by the Texas Restaurant Association Foundation.
With only a month of prep time, the team from Slocum High School (enrollment 121), had qualified for the state competition. Slocum team members competed against teams from large metropolitan schools, enrolling 2,000 students or more, that started designing their restaurants six months ago.
Surprised, some team members pondered a future in the food business. “We're going to walk out of this class knowing how to open our own restaurant,” Hobson said.
All teams had to follow strict parameters: Select and prepare a menu, design a floor plan, create two dishes, provide photos, and sell the idea to judges.
Slocum's menu for success: A farm-to-table authentic Mexican restaurant named “Alma,” serving foods enjoyed in Mexico City – not Tex-Mex – in an upscale, modern vibe.
“Alma” means “soul” in Spanish. “The food speaks to your soul,” Bowman, the team's marketing director, told the Herald-Press. “It's light and delicate.”
Mendez, who works at a restaurant, selected items for the menu, including two appetizers: Alma Ceviche, made from marinated fish, fresh vegetables, and light sauces on a roasted poblano pepper; and a fire roasted Mexican shrimp cocktail.
One entree is Salmon Rostizado, with salmon filet, fresh vegetables, and light sauces. For dessert: Vanilla-Orange Flan or Tres Leches de Alma.
The team presented a board with photographs of menu items, a floor plan, a marketing plan, and details about the restaurant's interior, which combines lush greenery against an industrial design. They designed a two-story building with a restaurant on the first floor and an events room above.
Fifteen judges ranked the competition, including chefs and health inspectors. Judges asked pointed questions, challenging the team to use critical thinking skills.
The kids are now honing their presentation for the state contest in San Antonio.
Culinary teacher Deborah Woody also was surprised the team advanced, considering the group prepared their presentation board at the last-minute. Now, Woody is patiently shepherding the team, while allowing them to explore and experiment.
In a memo commending the team's performance, Woody cited the words of one Texas Restaurant director: “Given a little more time to prepare, Slocum could easily become a force to be reckoned with at state.”