With the realization that a trip to the National ProStart Invitational was no longer in reach, culinary arts students from Oak Harbor High School then had to swallow more tough news.
Heavy snow had closed Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, and that meant the journey home from the state competition in Spokane would be postponed a day.
The students would have to endure a 14.5-hour bus ride home March 3, giving them ample time to reflect on two second-place finishes and barely missing nationals.
Yet the focus of the experience remained upbeat.
“It was a blast,” senior Connor Quijano said. “It was definitely a little bit stressful being out there and competing. But we gave it our best.”
Oak Harbor, under teacher Mary Arthur and mentor Scott Fraser, sent eight students to the 2014 Boyd’s Coffee Prostart Invitational March 2 in Spokane.
The Wildcats needed to win in either the culinary or restaurant management divisions to extend what had become an Oak Harbor tradition of sending a team to nationals. The Wildcats won in both categories last year at state and wound up finishing fifth at nationals in culinary for the second year in a row.
Oak Harbor’s streak of sending a team to nationals had reached seven years.
“Nationals is not a given,” said Arthur, in her third year at Oak Harbor. “Every year, you have to fight for it. You can’t stand on your laurels. Regardless of how long you’ve gone to nationals in a row, you always have to work. The students worked very hard and I’m very proud of what both teams put out.”
Two teams from Pierce County won state championships this year -- Bonney Lake in culinary arts and Stadium of Tacoma in restaurant management.
Culinary teams had to prepare a starter dish, main entree and dessert while being timed before chef and industry judges at the event hosted by the Washington Restaurant Association. Restaurant management teams made presentations on business concepts they devised down to the smallest detail, including menu items and costs.
“It gets better and better each year,” said Fraser, Oak Harbor’s longtime mentor and owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway. “Bonney Lake had gotten second place a few years now and was trying to knock us off our pedestal. They came and did a great job. Our kids did a great job, too. It must have been a really tough decision.”
Oak Harbor’s culinary team was made up of seniors Dominick Mendrez and Quijano and juniors Patrick Punch, Patrick Salgado and Dylan Crogan.
That group prepared a starter dish of sea bass encrusted with chorizo, a main entree of duck breast with sweetbreads and a dessert that included a hazelnut torte and salted caramel ice cream.
Arthur said she was told by a former school employee who’s attended every culinary arts fundraising event over the past 10 years that it was the tastiest meal prepared by students yet.
Oak Harbor’s restaurant management team consisted of senior Robert Thomas, junior David Marrufo and sophomore Kelsey Vogt.
They came up with the concept of “BistroPlex,” and made a formal presentation to judges. The idea called for a combined multiplex movie theater and restaurant where healthier food is served. Their plan needed to include food and labor costs, menu pricing and marketing strategy.
“I’m really proud of it,” Vogt said. “We worked really hard. I thought our project as awesome.”
Vogt was so dedicated to the school’s culinary arts program that she stayed behind in Oak Harbor after her family moved to Thousand Oaks, Calif., in January. Her father, Scott Vogt, is a Marine flight instructor whose job called for a change in venue.
Kelsey Vogt is staying with family friends and won’t catch up with her parents and four siblings in California until after this school year.
“I miss them,” she said.
Culinary arts at Oak Harbor is a year-long program that blocks out two classes each semester and offers college credit. Students also learn the business end by running Wildcat Catering, which serves many community and school events each year.
Vogt’s career ambition is to open her own vegan restaurant in a small town. She’s a top student with a 3.9 grade-point average who is on track to graduate a year early.
“For both her and her parents to make that sort of sacrifice for her future, it’s very motivating, very inspiring,” Arthur said. “She’s smart and savvy. She’s got the kitchen skills, but I think she’s got the intellectual skills to be able to manage a business or do whatever she wants to do with it. And we have a lot of students like that on the team. It’s not just their cooking skills. They could do a lot of things.
“There are a lot of kids who could do a lot of other things academically but this is where their passion is. And I can teach knife skills and I can teach cooking basics. I can’t teach passion.”
For Vogt, staying behind to compete at the state invitational with her Oak Harbor classmates was worth it.
“It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “It was definitely a good decision to stay here.”
By finishing in the top three at the state event, Oak Harbor gained scholarship opportunities, state competition experience and memories of a wild, scenic and snowy trip home that included a detour through the Columbia River Gorge. The bus rolled into Oak Harbor around 11:30 p.m. Monday.
“We actually had a lot of fun during that long ride,” Salgado said.
“When we weren’t sleeping, it was fun,” Quijano said. .
“Our team really does well together with teamwork and getting along,” Thomas said. “We had a lot of fun playing games and looking at the scenery. It wasn’t too bad.”