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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February 2016

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

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First Saturdays in the First State Programs and events on the first Saturday of each month. Sites are open, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., check website for details. Free admission. Something new every...

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First State Heritage Park
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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
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Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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Kennett Township Building
801 Burrows Run Road
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

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Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Where:
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: Call for information.

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611x2446
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

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East Coast Garden Center
30336 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
Room 206
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Join us every Tuesday for this fun and educational enrichment activity. Students will learn to draw pictures from a variety of themes, including woodland animals, creatures by the sea, creepy...

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Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
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Bayhealth Kent General
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640 S. State St.
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: Free

Where:
Kimmel Center - Commonwealth Plaza
300 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA  19102
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Sponsor: Kimmel Center
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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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, DE

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Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital offers childbirth classes on Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Ground Floor Conference Room. The class will meet each Thursday for a total of five...

Cost: $50

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Rd.
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 ext. 2540
Contact Name: Maternal Child Health Clinical Educator
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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: $13

Where:
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1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
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201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
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Cost: 0.00

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Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Playing folk, Americana and blues, Sand Creek is a central Delaware institution of a band.   Friends of Folk is a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion and preservation...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
The Old State House
25 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 739-9194
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Art, the fourth element of hip-hop, comes alive for enthusiasts of both art and hip-hop. Let your inner creativity and love for hip-hop hit the canvas. "All I Need" is...

Cost: $40

Where:
Humpty's Dumplings
277 N Keswick Ave
Glenside, PA  19038
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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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