Feeding dreams and building a future workforce

Two Arizona high school culinary and restaurant management teams are heading to Washington D.C. to heat it up in the kitchen under intense pressure at the national ProStart Invitational May 8-10.

Nearly 400 students are put to the test during this highly competitive event. All want the coveted prizes: scholarships to the nation’s top culinary and restaurant management programs.

Ten students make up the two teams. They took the top awards – one for culinary and one for restaurant management – at the Arizona ProStart competition in January.  They are:

Blue Ridge High School in Pinetop-Lakeside won the top award for culinary skills at the Arizona ProStart competition.

Apollo High School in Glendale earned the highest state award for restaurant management.

Both schools are no strangers to winning, said Paula Bugg, coordinator of the Arizona Prostart program that is operated by the Arizona Restaurant Association (ARA) Foundation. Blue Ridge has led teams to nationals for the past three years. This is the second year in a row for Apollo.

“We are excited to have them represent Arizona in D.C.,” Bugg said. “They are the faces of our future restaurant and hospitality industry leaders, and they are fiercely creative, innovative and amazingly talented.”

Pressure cooker competition

ProStart is a nationwide, two-year high school culinary arts and restaurant management program that unites the classroom and industry to develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.

While the state competition is tense, nationals is even more of a pot boiler, Bugg said.

At the national competition, the teams must design, budget and create a three-course meal in one hour with only two bunsen burners. No running water. No electricity.

They must prove sophistication in flavoring, perfect timing and teamwork. Students must impress a panel of judges from leading industry corporations and colleges and universities with skills they’ve developed through ProStart.

Growing future stars for a booming industry

Started by the National Restaurant Association Foundation, ProStart teaches and certifies students across the country in culinary and restaurant management skills.

Last year, the foundation provided more than $200,000 in scholarships to the national winners.

ProStart students are attractive hires for the growing industry. This year the National Restaurant Association – that is celebrating its 100th year – projects it will see more than $850 billion in sales and serve more than 170 million customers a day.

Over the last century, the industry has grown to be the country’s second largest private sector employer. Today, more than one in ten workers is in food service, according to the association.

In Arizona, restaurant sales continue to rise year after year, the Arizona Restaurant Association reports. In 2018, food industry sales soared to almost $13 billion with an estimated 225,500 restaurant and bar employees.

Victoria Harker

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