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Westside’s culinary team scores big at Super Bowl LI

Westside High School culinary team scored big for the school when one of their specialty sandwiches appeared on this year’s Super Bowl menu.
The team created Bánh Mì-style sandwich with grilled fajita steak, avocado spread and pickled vegetables. Photos by Houston Independent School District

If one would have stepped into Westside’s Outback Cafe a year ago, the image of a dining cafe would appear – with students rushing in hungry and leaving stuffed after steak nights.
Today, the dining area is now filled with 14 stoves and griddles with a combination of ovens, leaving not much space for the dining area. Tables and chairs are now limited to seat only 24 people. Why all those kitchen equipment if you can only feed 24 people?
According to Westside High School chef Robert Holloway, one of the chef instructors of the culinary program, the focus has changed.
“We are more on the educational side now,” he said.
Chef Holloway explains the excitement he and the students feel about having a full professional kitchen.
“We added changing rooms, offices and demonstration areas where we can do video cookery,” he said.
He adds that the actual restaurant will be coming a little later.
“We are still in negotiation with the health department about getting our establishment license back because whenever you go through major renovations, you have to submit the plans all over again to the health department. So we hope to have that part of the program again but it might be more focused after school then on school time but who knows, we’ll see.”
Holloway explains the chaos in the kitchen but makes one thing clear.
“We had a little bit of a hiatus but have since kicked off again. We are probably the best educational kitchen in the state of Texas for any high school and probably rival some colleges.”
Westside’s program has always had partnerships with out-of-school programs like The Culinary Institute of America.
“Our students can obtain their first semester of college credits at the CIA when they fulfill all the requirements,” Holloway explained. “Because of our partnership, we have this new super, monstrous, awesome kitchen!”
That kitchen certainly was needed when the culinary team was selected to bring flavor to the Super Bowl.
The team prepared two sandwich recipes, one of which was featured in the concession stands at this year’s Super Bowl.
Vivian Romero, one member of the culinary team, spoke about the hard work she and other members put into the project.
“Many were surprised of how much work was put into our sandwiches – the chicken fried steak and the fajita beef Banh Mi sandwich,” Romero said.
According to Romero, the team had about four weeks to perfect the sandwich.
“We came up with ideas and we talked about things. It was kind of a rough sketch with having to create each of the components to it,” she said.
Holloway said the group tried about seven different chicken fried steaks and six different fajita marinades.
Senior Dominique Jackson, a member of the culinary team, explains how the team and chef started with the ideas.
“Before we even started Chef was like, ‘what goes in a sandwich?’ You know there’s the meat, cheese, garnish and sauce but we had to think beyond and see what substitutes were best. We would take our favorite foods and see how we could make it into a sandwich, like changing spaghetti into a sandwich,” she said with a laugh. “That was more of a joke but that really helped us. It just goes to show how we started.”
When it comes to important elements a sandwich has to have, Romero said flavor is at the top of the list.
“You have to remember the key to a sandwich for me is to balance out the flavors, so that way instead of them overpowering each other, they complimented each other. So with the bite of the jicama it would bring a little sweet and a little crisp to it, which is something unexpected,” the teen explained.
“And the meat itself you would expect to be pure savory but Oscar (Santilana) helped me by adding a little pineapple juice in there and it gave it a little sweet bite to it!”
Santillana, an assistant to the culinary team, tells where the main inspiration of the dishes came from.
“You see I believe Houston is a big city and what makes Houston is its different cultures. Our sandwich was also based on different cultures and as you know Vivian is part Salvadorian and I’m part Guatemalan, so we just mixed those two cultures together.”
Romeo agreed, “Exactly which is why we wanted to infuse a torta, a Mexican cuisine, with a Banh Mi so that’s what we did. We asked ourselves, ’what’s in a torta? and what’s in a Banh Mi?’ When we made the sandwich, we weren’t really sure how we wanted to present this sandwich. But at the end, we just tied everything in and put a little bit of our cultured Houston in this sandwich.”
This year’s culinary team has created a bond.
“You can say we have a special bond with all the different cultures we have and I feel like we all rub off each other when it comes to our ideas,” Santillana said with a smile.
Team member Michelle Meadows said the bond was strengthened during the team’s competition.
“It all became much solidified at our competitions practices, that by the time we got done with the practices, we weren’t just learning how to make the food, but how to make food with a team,” she said.
Chef Holloway said his crew was bombarded with media attention.
“The students got harassed so much they couldn’t sit down or eat. They always had microphones in their face, interviews after interviews. The experience sure was amazing though,” he said with a smile. “I am extremely proud of the students. They will forever be remembered for Super Bowl LI. Who knew a sandwich could take them so far?”

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