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Culinary Arts Students Cook Up Special Menu for Regional Competition

(L-R): Students in the Foster High School Culinary Arts practicum: Olivia Phillips, Yesenia Arriaga, Paola Guzman, Kayla Muse and Seth Apodaca.

(L-R): Students in the Foster High School Culinary Arts practicum: Olivia Phillips, Yesenia Arriaga, Paola Guzman, Kayla Muse and Seth Apodaca.

“Too Many Cooks” Is Never A Problem In This Foster High School Program

Text and photos by Mara Soloway

All that this classroom of the Culinary Arts Program at Foster High School needs to transform it into the set of a television cooking show are overhead cameras and a host urging the chefs on to complete their tasks on time. Here, the practicum students are in toques, chest coats and aprons prepping ingredients and tending to food on the stove tops, just like on any cooking show.

Taking the place of the encouraging host is teacher Jocelyn Aventurado, who has led the practicum for four years and was recently named by the Texas Restaurant Association Educa­tion Foundation as its 2016 Education Excellence Award recipient. You’ll want to know the students’ names, too — Seth Apodaca, Yesenia Arriaga, Kayla Muse and Olivia Phillips – so you can make reservations at their restaurants or have delectable treats at their bakeries after they graduate from culinary schools. Or, in Paola Guzman’s case, all the attention to detail she has learned in the practicum will benefit her when she becomes a surgeon.

On this particular day, the team of students is practicing a timed trial run for the 2017 Regional Texas ProStart Invitational, a competition sponsored by the Texas Restaurant Association (date and place TBD). The Foster High culinary team placed first in the 2016 competition. Guzman and Arriaga were part of the Foster team, each of whom received a $1,000 scholarship to a local culinary school.

Aventurado has led the team from placing 12th to second and then first. Texas has two regional ProStart competitions, one each in the Dallas and Houston areas. The top 27 teams in each area compete during regionals, and the top six from each region go to the state competition. The top one from each state goes to national, which is Aventurado’s ultimate goal.

The students have been working since the second week of school to figure out a menu for ProStart, which they will keep close to their chest coats until then. They started generating ideas by looking at cookbooks and food trends and from feedback given by their mentors. They also discussed foods familiar to them through their cultures. Last year’s winning ProStart menu was created after Aventurado showed the students some dishes from her Filipino culture. They dedicated the competition to her.

During the competition, Aventurado is not allowed to talk to the students, so Apodaca, the only junior on the team of seniors, will act as “director,” watching the time and guiding his teammates.

“The great thing is they learn how to work well together, understanding that if anything goes wrong, they have to try to figure out the best product at the end,” Aventurado said.

Apodaca credits his love of cooking to his dad. “We’d be up at midnight baking cakes and cookies.” His most requested dish is his secret version of his grandmother’s carrot cake recipe. He hopes to ultimately work at the Food Network test kitchen in New York after attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts for two years in California and studying cuisine and culture in Europe.

Arriaga is one of the rare students in the practicum who hated cooking when she was younger. Luckily for her family, she likes it now and they appreciate her sopapilla and flan. “I want to specialize in pastries in culinary school after high school,” she said.

Guzman grew up helping her family cook dinner. “My mom and my grandma were always teaching me.” Even though she creates a delicious chocolate flan, she plans to go to medical school.

Muse has been in the culinary program since eighth grade. “Since I was eight years old I wanted to be a chef. My mom and my family pushed me in that direction and support me,” she said. She plans to attend culinary school and also obtain a degree in business management to help her in running her own restaurant.

What excites Phillips about being in the program is having found her niche. She carefully measure spices for the marinade knowing that she needs to be exact. “Pretty much if you don’t measure, if even one thing is off, you can always tell if there’s a difference from the original recipe,” she said.

The Culinary Arts Program also recently earned another important recognition: it was chosen by the Texas Restaurant Association as the top culinary program in the Houston region. Aventurado and the other Culinary Arts teachers, Marguerite Penewitt and Sarah Peters, say they appreciate having their hard work recognized.

The Culinary Arts Program at Foster is so popular that two classes are full. Some of the students see it as their vocation, but not all. The program enhances their knowledge of nutrition, food safety, knife skills, and using recipes. Plus, they get to dine on the food they create. Ultimately, they end up with the ability to feed themselves in a healthy way.

“It’s a lot of work but to see these kids shine and grow is amazing,” Aventurado said. “The sky’s the limit for them.”

Arriaga prepares dessert ingredients.

Arriaga prepares dessert ingredients.


Guzman, Phillips and Muse work together on a possible ProStart menu.

Guzman, Phillips and Muse work together on a possible ProStart menu.


Recipe Created By Culinary Arts Students

PANCIT BIHON (Filipino Stir-Fry Noodles)

Serves 2


Olive Oil              2 tbsp.

Sweet Onion        ½ c.

Chopped Ginger  3 oz.

Bok Choy            1 c.

Large Carrot        ½

Sweet Peppers    ½ c.

Snow Peas          ¼ c.

Soy Sauce          ½ c.

Lemon Juice        ¼ c.

Brown Sugar       2 tbsp.

Sesame Oil         2 tsp.

Hoisin Sauce       ¼ c.

Rice Noodles       1 pkg.



  1. Heat a large stir fry pan with olive oil over medium high heat. Once pan is hot, add the onions and let it cook for a minute. Add the ginger and stir until onions turn brown.
  2. Next, add the bok choy and cook 2-3 minutes, before adding carrots and sweet peppers and snow peas.
  3. Mix the soy sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, and sesame oil in a mason jar. Shake well.
  4. Toss the rice noodles into the pan with the vegetables. Pour the sauce until the noodles have a light brown tint to them.
  5. Place the pancit on a plate and garnish with sliced boiled egg (if desired).

Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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