Three culinary arts students from Lakes High School had the rare opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., to cook and present their "Healthy Kids Menu" project during the National Restaurant Association's annual board meeting.
Gabi Swenson, Sasha Mathison and Alexis McIvor travelled with teacher Mary Opdahl to the conference, where they prepared chicken quesadillas with a vegetable marinara sauce for 175 people. Conference attendees included the CEO of Coca-Cola and Aunt Annie's Pretzels, along with other national leaders.
"I was really nervous at first," said Swenson, a third-year culinary arts student at Lakes. "We didn't have much room to prepare everything because the kitchen was really small, but once we got started, everything came together. I think past competitions really helped us with organization and nerves."
The Lakes team was responsible for their grocery shopping, food preparation and presentation. They prepared the food in the prep kitchen at National Restaurant Association's headquarters. They also mingled with conference attendees and answered questions about their dish.
"They didn't need me," said Opdahl. "I provided morale support and took pictures and the girls did the rest themselves. I was very proud of them."
The trip was the result of Lakes' participation in ProStart—a national career-building program for high school students interested in culinary arts and foodservice management—through the Washington Restaurant Association's Education Foundation.
Last school year, Lakes worked with Bev Utt, a dietician from MultiCare, to transform local menu items for kids to make them healthier. That work caught the attention of staff from the National Restaurant Association who invited Lakes to its conference.
"The Washington Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association paid for the entire trip and gave my students a wonderful educational experience. We're very thankful," said Opdahl.
Swenson even managed to land herself a job at Aunt Annie's Pretzels in the Tacoma Mall. After graduation she plans to attend college to study business with aspirations of opening her own restaurant.