Location: West Seattle
Sarah Rosenthal has been cooking for as long as she can remember. The 18-year- old, who will graduate from West Seattle High School next week, says her love of cooking was sparked by growing up in a home where food played a huge role.
“My family is big on cooking,” she says. “I think most of it comes from my grandmother. [She’s] always in the kitchen and there’s always something good cooking up.” One of Rosenthal’s favorite family recipes is chicken paprikash, a traditional Hungarian stew with chicken and noodles.
Rosenthal proved herself something of a culinary whiz kid after she enrolled in ProStart, an occupational education program that prepares high school students to enter the culinary industry. The two-year program is offered in high schools all over the United States and provides instruction in cooking, nutrition, and hospitality for budding chefs and restaurateurs. Rosenthal credited her completion of the rigorous program to her instructor, Danielle Henry.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” says Rosenthal. “She’s just amazing.”
ProStart holds annual state-level invitationals through its parent organization, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. In March, Rosenthal and four other students from her high school’s ProStart course placed fourth in the Washington State invitational. They were competing against students from a dozen other schools from all over Washington — including Garrison Smith, a close friend of Rosenthal’s — using Rosenthal’s recipe for kiwi pesto pasta, which she said has quickly become one of her favorite recipes.
Surprisingly, Rosenthal’s future career plans don’t involve a kitchen. “Cooking is definitely a skill that I want to have for the rest of my life,” she says. “I just don’t want to go into the industry.” She cites the culinary industry’s long hours and limited opportunities for advancement as major reasons for her move away from cooking as a career.
Instead, Rosenthal will head to the University of Montana this fall to study journalism. She fell in love with the field during a 2012 internship with KUOW-FM in Seattle, where she produced a story about a homeless woman forced to move into her van so she could afford her daughter’s college tuition. The story was picked up by radio stations across the country and resulted in the woman, Elizabeth Jay, being offered a place to live, free of cost.
“[My story] changed someone’s life in a pretty significant way,” says Rosenthal, who feels she can contribute more to journalism than to the culinary industry. “In the culinary industry, you have to start at the bottom,” she says. “Oftentimes, you are someone’s slave for 10 years or more before you get to a position of power where you can actually cook. I don’t want to sign up to be a slave.”
But under the right circumstances, Rosenthal says she could eventually see herself back in the kitchen in a professional capacity. “I think it would be incredible to own my own restaurant,” she says, going on to describe her ideal fare as a light, healthy Mediterranean style. “It’s a big dream, but it would be wonderful.”