INSPIRED. Food Truck Rodeo: SLHS Style
If you were in Gwen Williams' food and nutrition class at Southern Lee High School last Friday, you could have been forgiven if you mistook the scene for a cooking show like Master Chef.
Culinary offerings from a variety of cuisines? Check. “Celebrity” judges tasting the food and giving out notes to teams of student chefs? Check. It was all there, but it wasn't a cooking show. Instead, it was the culmination of a “food truck” assignment which the 20 10th, 11th and 12th graders in Williams' class had been working on for most of the school year.
“The teams had to come up with a concept for a food truck, what they were going to serve, make a business plan – all of that,” Williams explained. “We watched an episode of Shark Tank and The Great American Food Truck Race early in the year to give them an idea of what to expect. There's a lot of math involved in this project – the food was actually one of the smallest parts of this project.”
But the food was front and center Friday as judges tasted dishes from each of the six teams – there were tostadas, slider sandwiches, spruced up mac and cheese, chicken and waffles, brunch offerings and lighter fare such as salads – and offered notes.
Judges included Chef Gregg Hamm of Cafe 121 and the Executive Director of the Central Carolina Culinary Institute, Chef Regina Minter of Central Carolina Community College's culinary arts program, Southern Lee Assistant Principal Molly Poston, Dr. Lynn Smith of the Lee County Board of Education and Jasmine Cooner, an assistant manager at a local Subway restaurant.
“We started on this the second week of September, and they've been working really hard to come up with a business model, marketing plans, everything involved,” Williams said. “They also have to practice all the industry standards as far as safety and sanitation.”
As each team presented its offerings to the judges, they also had to talk about each of the details of owning a food truck. How would they pay for the truck itself? Where would they set up shop? What's the name of the business and what's the slogan? How would they arrive at the price point for their meals, and how many people would they need to serve each day to cover costs and make a profit?
The project was born out of Williams teaching her class the “lean canvas” model, which many people use to develop business plans. She said her prior attempts to teach the model hadn't satisfied her, so she came up with the food truck project.
“The way I taught it last year, I was just not happy with it. So I came up with this,” she said.
By the end of the event, the judges had dish after dish in front of them – “I'm trying to ration this out because we've got six little meals to eat,” Hamm laughed at one point – but each of the offerings was devoured with equal enthusiasm.
In the end, though, the winning team was the first one the judges tried.
“Wicked Waffles,” offered three varieties of chicken and waffle meals – original, barbecue and spicy glaze. The team – using the slogan “wicked good” – explained where their truck could be found, what their fixed and variable expenses would be, how they'd purchase their truck, their cooking techniques, their mission statement, their marketing strategy and more. They even fielded questions from the panel of judges about whether they'd thought about expanding offerings to include sweet options and the permitting and inspection processes they'd have to complete in order to operate.
Williams said that even though the food aspect was one of the smaller parts of the competition, it was something her students enjoyed quite a bit.
“Some of them are bringing in family recipes, some have developed their own sauces,” she said. “They’ve all really liked it.”
And hopefully one day soon, we can catch “Wicked Waffles” and the other food trucks rolling around Sanford.
Inspired is a digital digest published each week during the academic year by Lee County Schools to highlight accomplishments of students, faculty and staff.