TAMPA – As a senior at Leto High School, Alejandra Franco went through website after website in search of a college scholarship. Her grades were good enough and, besides that, she already knew what she wanted to do once she made it to college.
She searched and finally found a scholarship funded by Darden Restaurants and managed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. Darden specifically funds the program for students enrolled in the ProStart program, which Franco was enrolled in. Darden owns such restaurants as Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Capital Grille.
More than $100,000 in scholarships were awarded to students enrolled in the ProStart program, which is a nationwide two-year high school program that brings students and the restaurant industry together.
Franco knew right away that she wanted to take advantage.
“I gave them the information they needed and they said they would call back,” Franco said. “I didn’t think about it and then they called and said I got the scholarship. It was exciting.”
Franco decided to attend Johnson & Wales University in Miami, and enroll in their culinary arts program. And while she feels that she can cook almost anything, she specializes in pastries. She is happy with her choice of schools.
“It’s a small school but I went there and it is so nice,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit.”
She was the president of the Culinary Club at Leto and finished first in states as a senior. She and her two teammates went to Baltimore and finished 11th in the national championship, which was her second appearance on the national stage.
In competitions, there are three courses to the meal that is to be prepared. There is an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. As a junior, she handled the appetizer, which was a poached egg and a spinach salad. As a senior, she handled her specialty, the dessert. She made a chocolate cake with vanilla icing and saucing.
She realizes, however that a future which includes becoming a pastry chef does have its shortcomings.
“All of my friends and family want me to bake cakes and pastries for them,” Franco said. “It’s fun and I love to do it.’’