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National Restaurant Association - ProStart competitions underway

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ProStart competitions underway

The second day of culinary and management competitions are underway at the National ProStart Invitational in Minneapolis.

Nearly 300 students are vying for $3.75 million in scholarships from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and industry donors. The 46 teams come from nearly every state, Guam and U.S. military base schools in England, Germany and Japan.

In the culinary competition, the focus has returned to food, says Greg Beachey, who manages the ProStart program for NRAEF. The students are no longer trying to show off molecular gastronomy or complicated white-tablecloth cuisine techniques. For example, the Virginia team used rockfish for its entree — "exactly what they should be be doing," he says. The Tennesses team made pasta from scratch.

The challenge: Culinary teams must prepare appetizers, entrees and dessert in 60 minutes with only two butane burners. Judges evaluate teams on food safety, organization, preparation and knife skills and the dishes on taste, presentation and other criteria.

Before the competition begins, culinary judges evaluate the teams as they check in their supplies. They want to make sure the food is as fresh, safe and of the same quality as when they bought it, says Alberty Wutsch, chairman, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts.

Their organization and packing skills set the tone for the rest of the competition, says Brian Berquist, professor, hotel, restuaurant and tourism management, University of Wisconsin.

"Organization at this point is paramount," he says. "It means better speed when they go to their stations."

For the management competition, students prepare a hypothetical restaurant concept based on pre-established criteria. The students have 10 minutes to explain the concept to a panel of judges who question them about pricing, marketing, staffing, design and similar issues. A second group of judges evaluate critical-thinking skills with questions about challenges restaurant operators might face. Example: Your refrigeration system is down, and you open in an hour. What do you do?

"They’re not really tough questions," says Maddie Waseka of Sauk Rapids High School in Minnesota . I"t’s more like they try to catch you off guard. Or they want you to clarify your marketing plan or prices."

The competition experience helps build confidence, teamwork, time management and other skills the students will need for their careers, within the restaurant and hospitality industry -- or in other professions, the students say.

Sauk River's Maddie Marolf, who is considering a music therapy career, says ProStart has helped her develop customer service skills and a desire to give back to her community.

For Jerry Coffman, a senior on James Rumsey Technical Institute's culinary team, ProStart has helped him develop drive and motivation.

"My career dream is to become the best chef I can be," he says. "Thanks to ProStart, I see myself in the kitchen, doing what I want to do with my life. I have a head start on most people my age."




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