Six talented young chefs from Winter Springs High School earned a Super Bowl weekend trip to South Florida to help make the Taste of the NFL event a succulent success
Did you plan a big menu to go with the big game during Super Bowl weekend in February? Students in the Winter Springs High School culinary program did the same – just on a slightly different level.
Six students in the program were chosen to participate in the Taste of the NFL, an annual food and wine fundraising event held on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl. The Taste of the NFL features more than 32 of America’s most talented chefs, each hosted by an NFL team. Chefs prepare their signature dish for the dinner, and an NFL player greets diners at each station. Proceeds from the charity event are given to Feeding America food banks in an effort to curb hunger and provide food for needy families.
This year, the event was held at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida, where the Winter Springs High teens helped the chefs prepare and serve food to more than 2,000 A-list guests, NFL players and coaches, and celebrities.
“The NFL flew in the top Michelin-rated chefs in the nation,” says Chef Adam Efland, the head culinary instructor at Winter Springs High School. “The caliber of this event is impressive. We happened to be lucky that it was in Florida this year.”
The culinary program at Winter Springs High follows the ProStart curriculum, which is a nationwide, two-year program for high-school students that teaches culinary techniques and management skills.
Adam, who teaches alongside Chef Dane Brevoort, received an email from ProStart asking if any local schools wanted to participate in the Saturday NFL event. After filling out a questionnaire, Adam was notified that his program had been accepted.
“I was amazed,” he says. “This was the first time we were asked to be part of the event.”
Of the six total schools that sent students to the event, Winter Springs High was the only Central Florida school to participate.
“When we heard about this opportunity, we were ecstatic for our culinary program to be a part of the Super Bowl down in Miami,” says Pete Gaffney, WSHS principal. “The Taste of the NFL experience will be a memory that our students on the ProStart Culinary Team will never forget. I am so proud of our teachers, Mr. Efland and Mr. Brevoort, for always finding opportunities for our culinary students to shine.”
The school’s culinary program has about 400 students in total, but six students comprise the ProStart competition team, and those six are the young chefs who went down to South Florida. To be part of this team, students must try out, and once they earn their spot, they attend various cooking competitions.
The students traveled down to Miami together, departing after school on Thursday.
“We had to report to the kitchens by 7:00 a.m. Friday morning,” says Adam. “We met in a green room, where the students were paired with master chefs.”
The teens worked alongside the famous chefs to do the prep work all day Friday. They reported back on Saturday to serve meals at the various stations set up in the hotel’s ballroom.
This was no wings-and-beer event. Menu items included a lamb kofta with charred eggplant and tzatziki; octopus terrine with fennel and herb salad; brown sugar-glazed Velasso salmon; braised pork belly tacos with watermelon, jicama, and roasted jalapeño salsa; and Adam’s favorite, Caribbean-style crusted rib with whey polenta.
“It was amazing,” says Adam. “The students really got a great taste of what it was like to work in the industry.”
Gabe Rodriguez, a junior at Winter Springs High, was paired with Chef John Howie (representing the Seattle Seahawks). He helped prepare ahi and shrimp poke with yuzu tobikko and wakame.
“I was really nervous,” Gabe says, “but it gave me such a great work experience. It was very cool.”
Talia Castro, a senior who has been making cakes since 2015, caught the eye of Chef Buddy Castano Jr. from Carlo’s Bakery in the Florida Mall.
“I showed him some of the work I’ve done in the past for my business,” Talia says. “He offered me a job on the spot!”
Talia left the event with Chef Buddy’s personal email and a promise of a job at Carlo’s Bakery.
“It was such an amazing opportunity for all of us,” says Talia. “I’m really glad I got to experience it – to get the lessons and the information and the knowledge – and get a job offer!”
The event coordinators were so impressed with the skill of the Winter Springs High students that they invited them back for the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa.
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“The students are still in awe,” says Adam. “I wasn’t sure how they would react, whether they would appreciate the magnitude of this event, the caliber of the chefs, and the Hollywood stars who were there – but they did. They came back with smiles on their faces, ready for next year.”