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A Taste of Success

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The Winter Springs High School culinary program is an educational experience for both the palate and the mind

For years, Winter Springs High School teachers Adam Efland and Elizabeth Leh have cooked up some great ideas for their culinary arts students. The school’s rigorous four-year culinary program, one of Winter Springs High’s most popular electives, offers a sequence of courses that build on academic as well as technical abilities. While not every student opts in for four years, those who do learn progressively complex culinary skills. The students who make the cut and finish the program, well, you might say they’ll get their just desserts.

In a well-equipped kitchen that rivals professional commercial catering facilities, Elizabeth teaches students the basics of food preparation, sanitation, and safety, but the lessons go beyond slicing and dicing and cooking techniques. Elizabeth’s class is just as much a lab for learning life skills such as teamwork and time management as it is a kitchen for food preparation.
“Some students come into class thinking it’s going to be an easy one-credit elective,” Elizabeth says with a knowing smile.
The course may be basic, but it’s anything but easy, and those who don’t like the heat sometimes get out of the kitchen after the first year.

The majority of the students who stay will move on to Culinary Arts II, where Adam Efland, a professional chef who trained at the Baltimore International Culinary College, takes their basic skills to a whole new level. By the time the students have completed Culinary Arts III and IV, both honors-level courses, they’ve earned industry certifications that prepare them for further education and careers in the hospitality and tourism fields.   

“What we teach is more than just culinary arts,” says Chef Efland. “Whether or not my students seek to be professional chefs, the program imparts skills that prepare them for life.”  

Indeed, working in the WSHS kitchen, especially in advanced courses III and IV, students learn the importance of planning and prioritizing, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, communication, and creativity – skills that give them an edge whether they’re applying for college or a culinary academy or looking to enter the job market after high school.  

Chef Efland takes great pride in the growth of students in his advanced classes. In September, he selected a ProStart team – an elite group of students recognized for their culinary skills – to represent WSHS at the prestigious Johnson & Wales University Culinary Competition. An annual statewide contest between 50 high schools, the event will take place at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando in early March. The ProStart team consists of Alyssa Osinga, Devin Unterreiner, Jenna Copeland, and Charlie Ciosek.  

“The students are judged on preparation and attention to detail as much as the taste of their food,” says Chef Efland. “And, they must work as a team to ensure that everything is ready and plated properly, all within 60 minutes.”

Each school’s team is required to develop a unique three-course menu that includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Under the guidance and watchful eye of Chef Efland, the ProStart team is constantly preparing for competition, developing and refining the Caribbean-themed cuisine they hope will impress the discerning eyes and palates of the judges.

The Iron Chef-style competition will be fierce, but the Winter Springs High School ProStart team is eager and ready to take on the heat.

Meet the ProStart Team:

Charles Ciosek- Junior (16)

“I chose to be in the program because I like to cook, and it runs in my blood. I have learned a lot being in the program, important things that I need to know if I start a culinary career.”

Plans for the future:  “My plans are to become a chef and open a restaurant of my own.”

Alyssa Osinga,  - Senior (17)

“Growing up with a really rough childhood, culinary was always my escape and brought positive things to life, so when I realized I had the opportunity to do what I love in high school, I grabbed the chance as fast as I could. I’ve gained a lot of culinary experience from the front of the house to the back of the house in a kitchen, not only preparing single meals, but catering for over hundreds of people.”

Plans for the future: “I’m going to earn my bachelor’s degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Then, soon after I experience food cultures around the world, I plan to open my own restaurant.”

David Unterreiner,  - Senior (17)

“I chose this program because I have a passion for cooking and have been in the kitchen almost all my life. I’ve gained valuable experience through Chef Efland, as he has taught me much about the commercial side of the kitchen and has provided excellent catering and line-chef experience that I will use throughout my life.”

Plans for the future: “Aerospace engineering at a Florida university. I intend to work in the culinary industry throughout college. I’m very happy to have joined this program, as it not only gave me work experience, but connections and friends I’ll have throughout my life.”

Jenna Copeland,  - Junior (16)

“I’ve been cooking, ever since I could reach the stove. It started with watching cooking shows over the usual cartoons and educational TV shows. Then I would beg my grandma to let me help her cook. I was always at her side in the kitchen. So, when I had the opportunity to be in a cooking program, I had to take it. The most important thing I’ve learned is patience and definitely a greater love for the culinary arts.”

Plans for the future: “Medical school – pediatrician. I’ve always wanted to become a doctor and I love kids.”

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