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National Restaurant Association - Foodservice director: 'I hope I get to judge ProStart for a long time'

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Foodservice director: 'I hope I get to judge ProStart for a long time'

Kristin and Dane 2.jpg

A degree from the Culinary Institute of America prepared Kristin Macan for a 15-year career as a chef. But she says she didn't really understand the true meaning of hospitality until she was a judge at the Virginia ProStart Invitational in early March.

Macan, food service director, SAGE Dining, Christchurch (Va.) School, says she agreed to be a judge for the wrong reasons: She wanted to network with other chefs, recruit talent and taste great food.

"I expected it to be fun and light-hearted," she says. "What I didn't realize was how much the I would be affected by the kids and the competition."

On the first day of the two-day event, she noticed that judges, volunteers and Virginia Hospitality & Travel Association staff treated the competitors as culinary professionals, not as students, as soon as they walked in the door. Judging the management competition, where students present hypothetical restaurant concepts, she talked one-on-one with students.

She was impressed with how they took on a huge responsibility to create hypothetical restaurants, as well as how they answered questions about their concepts, she says. Their answers were "spot on," although, as students, they had never run a restaurant.

On the second day, she designated herself as an "official encourager" and took the least-prepared culinary team under her wing. Most of the culinary teams had practiced for weeks, costing and testing recipes and honing their cutting techniques and culinary skills. But it was clear that one team was different.

Just two members had shown up, and they were terrified. They had barely practiced, didn't know their recipes and many of the skills needed for competition and were missing some recipes.

So Macan and several other chefs taught them basic skills, got them organized and helped them simplify their menu.

"There were chefs with more than 25 years of experience, just dying to do menial jobs like go grab us some salt or take our dishes to the back to get washed," Macan recalls. "As I explained the new menu ... I was thinking 'This is really what hospitality is all about. It's about serving people, no matter who you are and no matter who they are. It's about responding to a crisis with willing hands to do whatever you can to make everyone successful."

The eager-to-learn students taught something to Macan and her fellow judges:  "Even when you are down, unprepared and behind, if you just show up and are willing to learn, in this industry, you can still finish ahead."

The Viriginia competition was a run-up to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's National ProStart Invitational, set for April 29 through May 1.

Pictured: Kristin Macan, with her husband Dane, a former ProStart teacher, whom she met at CIA.



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