Culinary arts team to compete at nationals _lowres

Photo provided by Amy Dreher -- The West Feliciana High School culinary arts team won first place in management and second in culinary at the Louisiana ProStart Invitational held March 3-4 at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The WFHS team includes, from left, ProStart Instructor Amy Dreher, Brandon Oliveaux, Jacob Manieri, Lexi Auxt and Dalton Clevenger with Louisiana Restaurant Association President Stan Harris.

A team of juniors from West Feliciana High School will travel to Anaheim, California, on April 18-20 to compete in the 14th annual National ProStart Invitational, the premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts.

Culinary arts teacher Amy Dreher’s West Feliciana team, featuring Lexi Auxt, Dalton Clevenger, Jacob Manieri and Brandon Oliveaux, will participate in the restaurant management competition, thanks to its first-place finish in management over seven other teams in the Louisiana ProStart Invitational on March 3-4 at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

The West Feliciana team finished second in the culinary portion of the Louisiana event, behind Lakeshore High School but ahead of Dutchtown High School.

The competition at Disneyland will attract students from across the globe.

In the restaurant management category, the students are tasked with creating a business plan for a restaurant of their choice for a fictitious town called “ProStartville.”

There were 40 teams in the category last year.

“Our management team competes Sunday morning (April 19) in front of a panel of judges that includes chefs and restaurant professionals,” Dreher said.

The students will pitch a restaurant called “Dalton’s Diner,” a Cajun and Creole experience. The place has a classic ’50s diner feel featuring all Louisiana food.

“We’re keeping the same concept; we’ll make some minor changes and adjustments, perfecting a few things,” Dreher said. “They came up with everything, including a menu with 12 items, and they make and cost out three items on it. They also came up with a logo, the interior decor and design and marketing tactics for how they plan to publicize their restaurant. It’s an incredible amount of detail and work.”

The students will make their verbal presentation with various visual aids, followed by a critical-thinking question-and-answer session.

“For the kids to do this along with their other schoolwork has taken an incredible amount of dedication on their part,” Dreher said.

She said the group has enjoyed a tremendous amount of family support, and she has relied on her husband, Daniel, who owns a successful restaurant, Fresh Kitchen, in Baton Rouge.

In fact, the Drehers met at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, from which they both graduated in 2006. They moved to her home state of Missouri, then returned to Louisiana, where Daniel got a job opportunity and Amy began working at WFHS.

In previous years, her teams have finished second in the cooking part of the state competition, finished third her first year and second the past two years. This is their first year to compete in the management challenge.

Dreher said she’s been surveying social media from some of the other teams and past events so she’ll know what to expect in Anaheim.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association is helping fund the students’ travel along with donations from the West Feliciana Parish School Board and the high school. The national event is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association to identify and nurture students who are interested in careers in the restaurant industry.

“These are smart kids,” Dreher said. “They all plan on attending college. I’m glad we can give them this opportunity and that they will have an understanding of the industry. They’re so motivated. They’ve already started planning for next year.”