Aspiring baker begins career with award-winning edible rooster made of peppers, pineapple
A rooster with a pineapple for a head, a carrot for a beak and yellow, orange and red bell peppers for feathers has made 16-year-old Amy Hallifax an award-winning culinary apprentice.
The Estero High School student is actually an aspiring baker, but she’s already pretty well-versed in edible centerpieces.
“A lot of roosters were made,” she said, laughing.
Hallifax, who will be a senior this fall at Estero High School, earned second place in March in the edible centerpiece category at the statewide 18th annual ProStart Culinary Team Competition, hosted by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Education Foundation.
She started practicing her rooster made with cucumber flowers, blackberries, raspberries and watermelon radishes in January. She made about three roosters a week for five months, perfecting the zig-zag pattern of the peppers and the cone-shaped pineapple head.
Estero High School student Amy Hallifax created an edible centerpiece made from bell peppers, pineapple, carrots and other produce to earn second place in the category at the statewide ProStart Culinary Team Competition in early March. (Photo: Submitted)
And many of the scraps, Hallifax said, were fed to her family’s flock of chickens and roosters at their Bonita Springs home.
“I’m a farm girl,” she says.
At the competition, Hallifax and her competitors from across the state had one hour to complete their edible centerpieces. Judges considered originality, technique, color and difficulty level.
It felt like one of those competition cooking shows people like to watch on Food Network, Hallifax said, except you don’t feel the nerves when you’re just watching it on the screen.
“There were a lot of mixed emotions going on there,” she said. “It is definitely nerve-racking just because it was my first high-risk competition.”
Her career in the food industry is just beginning — Hallifax has been involved each year with her school’s culinary elective course, and she works three days a week at DeRomo’s Gourmet Market & Restaurant in Bonita Springs.
But her passion for baking started early.
When she was young, Hallifax would help out in the kitchen, especially on days when her mom was too tired after work. She made brownies and cupcakes and cakes for her family.
“I kind of fell in love with doing it because I’m a creative person and that was definitely a way to do it,” she said. “And then I got to eat it afterwards. That’s even better.”
So she enrolled in the culinary program at school to learn how to make food from scratch, and Hallifax’s passion for baking turned into aspirations for a career. She got a white chef’s jacket for Christmas from her mom. And then Hallifax started working at DeRomo’s at the beginning of the year, where she helps prepare desserts in the kitchen and interact with customers at the counter.
Here, Hallifax said she’s learning real-world, hands-on experience.
“She’s always happy and ready to learn,” said Stephanie Esteva, the bakery manager at DeRomo’s. “That makes a big difference in the world, when somebody succeeding in anything that they do that they have the willpower, the want, the desire, they will succeed in no matter what category it is in life
Hallifax said she dreams of one day opening her own bakery, one that specializes in paleo-friendly sweet treats.
“I know quite a few families who have a strict diet because of allergies so I want to create an environment to where they don’t have to worry about that,” she said.
Hallifax said she enjoys making cinnamon rolls most. It’s a challenge, she said, and a process. It starts with the dough, then the filling, then the icing.
She also enjoys the science side of baking — finding the right combination of ingredients — and the creativity that goes along with it.
“You can experiment with different ingredients with what you’re making, and with that you can definitely make something very beautiful and very good-tasting that people will love it, and that’s my favorite part about it, is that people will enjoy it.”