Annual ProStart Culinary Competition held in Newport

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ProStart is a national program that prepares high school students for successful entrance into the culinary industry. Over the course of two years, students undergo classroom time and 400 hours of mentored work. They study all aspects of working in a kitchen, from knife skills to kitchen cleanliness to executing the perfect dish. They also become familiarized with restaurant management skills in which they learn about customer service, cost control, and business marketing. 

Rhode Island’s 2016 ProStart Invitational was held Saturday, March 12th at the Hyatt Regency in Newport, RI. During the competition, five small teams from different Rhode Island high schools prepared a three course meal and presented them to the judges over the course of a few hours. The groups are critiqued on all aspects that they have studied in the program. The winning school of the Invitational moves on to the national competition in Dallas, Texas where they compete against teams from around the country. 

At the end of their time with ProStart, the students will have mastered fundamental service and hospitality skills. Along with the completion of the classroom time and work hours, the students must also pass two national exams to earn the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement. This certificate opens many doors for scholarship opportunities to aid them in continuing their culinary education. Last year, one hundred percent of the students in ProStart went on to the college or university of their choice to further their knowledge and prepare them for landing their dream culinary job.  

Students arrived at the hotel around 7 am for the all day event.  From the second they stepped food onto the hotel grounds, they were being critiqued.  Food was first checked in my the Rhode Island Department of Health to ensure the food was properly transported and labeled.  After that, the cooking portion began.  Some of the skill portions of the competition included proper knife skills and breaking down whole chickens.  

After that, the actual cook began.  Students had set up mock kitchens and we cooking in front of as many as 75 people at a time. 

About an hour after the cooking began, the food started coming out for the judges.  

For the second year in a row, Sam had the privilege of judging the competition, this year in the culinary portion of the competition, more specifically, appetizers.  

Each year I am more and more impressed with the students that come through the program and the food they produce.  The Pro Start competition does a great job showing students what the restaurant industry is all about and paints a picture of what it takes to succeed in this industry.  Cooking in front of judges and being critiqued on the execution of dishes is no easy task. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication they have, and it is such a great thing to be a part of.”

This years common thread with the appetizers was seafood. Everything from tuna tartar to scallops was prepared for us, all of it looking and tasting as if it could have come out of some of the best kitchens in the state. 

In the end, there can only be one team to represent Rhode Island in Texas. That honor went to Davies Career and Technical High School for the second year in a row.  (Their appetizer dish is the top left one.) 

In 2015, there were 27 students in the Rhode Island ProStart program, all 27 received college scholarships to some of the best culinary programs in the country.    

To learn more about the program, please visit http://www.nraef.org/prostart.