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National Restaurant Association - Student finds inspiration in ProStart

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Student finds inspiration in ProStart

Shannon Katz.JPG

Shannon Katz, a junior at Winter Park (Fla.) High School, recently was selected to represent the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's ProStart program at the Women's Foodservice Forum conference in Orlando.

Katz is an outstanding example of the power of ProStart. She puts in long hours, balancing school work with two jobs, despite challenges that require great personal strength and drive.

Katz lives with her father, his fiancée, her sister and 4-year-old twin stepsiblings, both of whom are autistic. She has found inspiration in ProStart and support from her ProStart educator, Chef Arlene Palumbo.

“My family is struggling, but Chef Palumbo sees that I have the drive to succeed," she says. "My focus is on the future and not on the past, and ProStart is helping me get there ... Chef Palumbo knew this was something that I needed and something that would inspire me."

Through ProStart's blended approach, which puts equal emphasis on management and culinary training, Katz has learned she needs skills in both areas to be successful. She hopes to attend Johnson & Wales, where she plans to get a double major. In the meantime, she's taking a marketing class in addition to ProStart to apply that knowledge to her restaurant career.

The NRAEF caught up with Katz at the WFF conference. Here's what she had to say about her ProStart experience.

Q: How did you learn about ProStart?
A: My stepdad used to cook all the time. He passed away just before I turned 11, and I kept cooking to keep a piece of him with me. I learned about the ProStart program when I was a sophomore, and I immediately signed up. I love it: The culinary part is something that has always interested me, and then when I started work on the management pieces, such as costing, it all made sense. 

Q: What do you like best about ProStart?
A: I love being able to put something together for others to enjoy. Food has such a strong emotional connection. I love creating something that makes people happy — and who doesn’t like to make other people happy?

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I leave the house at 7 a.m. and head to school. After a full day of classes, I work in the student-run café for an hour or two. Then I go home, quickly change and head to my other job at Anthony’s Pizza. It’s a long day, but I love what I’m doing and the experience I’m gaining.

Q: How do apply your classroom experiences to your restaurant work?
A: Working at the student-run café and helping with catering projects has opened my eyes to what I want to do professionally. I love taking what we learn in class and applying it to my job — whether it’s at the café, through catering, or at the restaurant. Taking what you learn in the classroom and using it in the workplace is inspiring.

Q: Tell me about the café at school.
A: We serve smoothies, frappes, chicken strips, tater tots — things like that. Our ProStart instructor, Chef Palumbo, oversees everything, but the students are involved in everything from production to inventory management and purchasing to service.

Q: How successful is the café?
A: It’s amazingly successful. We have made enough money that we were able to fund a trip to Italy for the students who work there. We visited Venice, Florence, Rome, Padua and Assisi. We took a Tuscan cooking class and visited Rome’s first gelateria. It was fantastic!

Q: Tell us about your job at Anthony’s Pizza.
A: It’s a very busy restaurant with a small staff. I love that I can help with front-of-the-house, but I also have an opportunity to observe the work in the back-of-the-house. I get a lot of great experience in customer service and love that there are so many regulars. There’s definitely a feeling of hospitality and being part of the community.

Q: How do you share what you’ve learned with your classmates?
A: Chef Palumbo works in real experiences into the class. For example, if I have something really challenging that I deal with at work, she’ll bring it up with the class. We talk about different ways I could’ve dealt with it.

Q: What do you think of the Women’s Foodservice Forum conference?
A: I have gotten so much out of this conference — more than you can imagine. It has opened my eyes to all the opportunities in the restaurant industry.

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