ProStart Program Sparks Appetite for Aspiring Chefs

High stakes in national competition spotlights some of Delaware’s finest.



William Penn High School’s Teen Spirit includes (from left) Endy Ortiz, Jon Willis, Israel Plascencia and Danielle Neubauer.

One hour. Two burners. Three courses. If you think it sounds like the rules for a reality cooking show, you’re close. Though the competition is not on TV, the stakes are real. The participating chefs, however, aren’t celebrities or professionals. They’re high school students.

This is the National ProStart Invitational. The event May 3-5 in Minneapolis provides plenty of nail biting.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking,” says Lion Gardner, executive chef of Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach. For two years, Gardner has been a mentor to Cape Henlopen High School students, whose culinary team went to the nationals in Baltimore last year. “They’re expected to be professional, and they’re treated like adults by the judges.”

To demonstrate knowledge of the restaurant and food service industry, student teams develop and defend a business plan for an original restaurant concept. This year, both the culinary and management teams at Cape Henlopen High School are headed for nationals, which offers up to $1.4 million in scholarships.

“It’s like the Olympics,” says Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, which partners with the program. “It’s like a movie.”

About 100 ProStart students from across the state will also participate in various ways during the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival this month. “We are extremely involved,” says Kip Poole, culinary instructor at William Penn High School. Students will help the chefs in the kitchen at pop-up dinners, in restaurants and during five-courses meals served in private homes.

 

Cooking Up a Curriculum

ProStart is one of the largest youth development programs in the country. Participation can lead to new skills, industry contacts, certification and, ultimately, jobs.

The need for it became evident in the 1990s, when the industry hit a labor crisis, says Xavier Teixido, a past chairman of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. So the foundation developed a pilot program in 2000. Instruction covers such subjects as management and kitchen essentials, food safety, marketing, nutrition, purchasing, inventory and cost-control. 

Today there are ProStart programs in about 2,000 high schools in 48 states serving 100,000 students. Students who complete the requirements—which include passing two national exams, demonstrating mastery of foundation skills and working 400 mentored hours—can earn the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement, which qualifies them for scholarships and college course credits at 60 colleges and universities. “It’s huge,” says instructor Poole, who started the program at Penn. “It really pushes them.”

While exciting, the competition is not mandatory. Students volunteer. Gearing up for the state competition starts in September. 

At William Penn, for example, students met in the fall with mentor Andrew Feeley, executive chef of Eden, to brainstorm menu ideas. (Students must prepare an appetizer or soup, entrée and dessert.) The team then narrowed the list to 13 possibilities. 

Few would argue these aren’t restaurant-worthy menus. For the 2014 state competition, Cape Henlopen planned a crab salad appetizer with arugula and a blood orange emulsion; rack of lamb with rosemary and garlic served with rainbow chard and a Yukon gold potato cake; and a coffee-glazed Italian doughnut with fudge sauce and cappuccino foam in a white chocolate cup.

Once the team selects a menu, they finesse each dish within the time limit. Remember, there are only two burners. “You figure out who needs to do what and who needs the burner and when,” says Jennifer Cornell, the family consumer sciences teacher at Cape Henlopen. “It’s quite a dance.”

 

Restaurant Wars

While the culinary competition can spark interest among observers outside the industry—it is food, after all—the management side draws those either in the industry or those hoping to join it.

The students receive the demographics of a fictional city, dubbed ProStart, U.S.A. William Penn’s city had more than 400,000 residents and a rich nightlife. “There are museums, there’s great architecture and a prominent restaurant life,” says senior Jon Willis. “We did the math and realized it’s a lot like Minneapolis.”

The team based its concept on Southern comfort food, but instead of serving fried chicken, their restaurant would serve fried quail. “It’s a twist on a trend,” Willis says. “We’re re-creating it.” The team prepared and photographed dishes for the presentation. They even detailed the restaurant’s decor and layout. 

Cape Henlopen won this year for a family-friendly, eco-friendly Asian concept. The students present the information as if they’re appealing to investors. “They have to defend it,” Cornell explains. Public speaking skills are a must, as are effective visual aids and industry know-how. 

Between March and May, Cape Henlopen has had time to tweak the plan and menu. For the 2013 national event, for instance, Cape Henlopen opted to make the menu more complicated, Gardner says.

“Instead of having empanada dough already made, we decided to make homemade dough all within the hour timeframe.” They also filleted the fish in front of the judges to demonstrate technique. “We wanted to add as much as we could. The kids wanted to push themselves—which they did.”

Even with two months of practice, anything can happen. Aubrey Inkster, who went to nationals last year with Cape Henlopen, recalls teammate Junior DiMaio cutting his finger and seeking medical help. “It wasn’t too bad,” Inkster says. “He was only out for two minutes.”

But during those two minutes, the team’s empanadas were left on the burner too long. Once back in the game, DiMaio made new dough from scratch. “We’d run through it so many times, I knew I had time to try again,” he says. “I wanted to serve something right.” 

 

The Real World

Interacting with the pros during competition and in class helps the students make contacts. One worked with Gardner at Blue Moon last summer, and he keeps in touch with others. Gardner, who teaches in the Delaware Technical Community College culinary program in Dover, took DiMaio to work with him to check out the program.

William Penn offers hands-on experience through its culinary program, which runs Penn Bistro, the school’s in-house café. The students also handle catering jobs, from weddings to parties to participating in Gov. Jack Markell’s inauguration event.

Many are now on the path to hospitality leadership. Inkster hopes to go to Drexel University, where he can study hospitality and the culinary arts and get a four-year degree. William Penn senior Kevin Castro, who’s been on the management and culinary teams, applied to culinary-hospitality programs at the University of Delaware and Cornell University.

DiMaio, who plans to go to The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, says ProStart definitely influenced his career choice. “I learned the basics and it motivated me to try harder,” he says. “I want to make an excellent dish that looks great.”   

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

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Join Rachel Binkley of Rocker Soaps + Herbals for a fun and information filled class. We will make soap, learn how to make a soap recipe and get tips and techniques to make it easier for you at...

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Elements of Nutrition
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Come give curling a try! At this 2-hour intro-to-curling event we'll provide a basic lesson then coach you through a mini-game.  Whether you just want to cross #curling off your bucket list or...

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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society will present its popular What Makes Us Tick? program during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 13-15. This analytical film and discussion series...

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BROKEN ARROW: A NEIL YOUNG TRIBUTE Broken Arrow delivers the music of Neil Young; both the rockin' electric guitar driven favorites and the more country flavored classics with pedal steel and...

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Learn how climate change affects our world with hands-on activities that can relate to explorers of all ages. Arctic Adventure and Rainforest Explorer visitors can take on the role of an Arctic...

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Delaware Museum of Natural History
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Science is for everyone! Join us for hands on crafts and activities that highlight science contributions to natural history from scientists all around the world. Learn how YOU can make a difference...

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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

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East Coast Garden Center Indoor Farmers Market Nov 8, 2016 - April 11, 2017  11 am- 2 pm 25 vendors Location:  East Coast Garden Center 30366 Cordrey Rd Millsboro, DE 19966 302-945-3489

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A four-week series of ballroom dancing classes taught by teachers from the BlueBallroom. Tuesdays starting Jan. 10. Classes are $30 a lesson for Non-Members. Non-Member slots are limited. For...

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The Cinema & the Arts film series proudly presents a screening of the documentary ART BASTARD on  Tuesday, January 17, 7:00 pm, at Cinema Art Theater, 17701 Dartmouth Drive in Dartmouth Plaza,...

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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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The Division of Public Health offers its annual free flu vaccination event in the Legislative Hall Library, ground floor, 411 Legislative Ave., Dover, DE, on January 18, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to...

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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
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, DE  19804
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Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

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The Annex
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Thursdays from 4:00PM-5:30PM Fall session: December 1st, 8th and 15th Winter session: Starts January 19th, every other Thursday until March 30th This program is based entirely outdoors and is...

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Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

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The 3rd Place and Bike Lane Cafe along with WestSide Grows and Delaware Permaculture bring you the West 7th Street Bazaar.  Happening EVERY 3rd Thursday of the month from January through May,...

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January 19 – Thursday – 6:30 p.m. Research Seminar: Amyrs Williams (Wesleyan University) – Reimagining the Modern Farm The seminar is open to the public and is based on a paper that is...

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Copeland Room, Hagley Library
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

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Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
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HIGH & MIGHTY BRASS BAND There’s a reason that musical trailblazers from Galactic to DJ Logic have recently chosen to collaborate with High and Mighty Brass Band! and legends such as Dr. John,...

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World Cafe Live Wilmington
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Formed in 1992, Splintered Sunlight quickly became the most popular Grateful Dead Tribute band in the Philadelphia area, gaining praise from Dead Heads and Non Heads alike. Since that time,...

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World Cafe Live At The Queen
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

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Ah, typecasting—the baritone is always the bad guy! In Devils, Drunks & Dastardly Dudes, we’ll go on an operatic journey of men behaving badly. We’ll add a tenor to the mix, too… but we...

Cost: $29-$59

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OperaDelaware Studio
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Amateur and professional creators from the Wilmington community and beyond will sketch, paint and sculpt side-by-side with DCAD students, alumni, faculty and staff as nude and costumed male...

Cost: $30 per person

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Delaware College of Art and Design
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From foxes and beavers to cats and dogs, all mammals benefit from open space! Discover the signs of mammals in winter and learn about human impact on mammal habitat and population survival. Join...

Cost: FREE for TLC members / $10 for non-members

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Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and the Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation are proud to present The Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of Charles Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE on Saturday,...

Cost: $15 - $25

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Cape Henlopen High School Theater
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

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Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
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Coastal Concerts in downtown Lewes will host a presentation by one of the most recognized, honored and versatile musicians in the world, the legendary two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist...

Cost: $30. Ages 10-18 and one adult per youth.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
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Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
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Ovations Dinner Theatre hosts an interactive Mafia Murder Mystery dinner. Ticket includes a 3-course Italian dinner and the performance. Tickets are $45 for Non-Members and Non-Member seating is...

Cost: 45

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Ballroom at University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
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Bethany Beach – When local businessman Tim Hill was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS”) in 2014, he set on a mission to help other people who were diagnosed with...

Cost: $20 General Admission

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Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main Street
Frankford, DE  19945
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
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AM RADIO Have you ever perked up when the radio plays a song that first hit popular stations when you were young? Do you turn the volume up to obnoxious levels and sing along? Music can bring us...

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