Teen Chefs Are Cooking Up Inspiration at 2020 Utah ProStart State Competitions

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The Utah Restaurant Association (URA) will hold its annual Utah ProStart Culinary and Management State Championship next week. The URA’s school-to-career program called ProStart® prepares and trains high school juniors and seniors to begin management careers as they enter the restaurant industry. The Utah ProStart State Culinary and Management competitions will take place on Thursday, March 12, 2020, from 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM in Provo inside the Utah Valley Convention Center. The event is open to the public.  

The culinary competition includes 13 teams of five teen chefs from all over Utah. Culinary competition rules require only the use of two butane burners and no electricity to prepare a three-course meal consisting of a first course, entree and dessert from recipes they have created with their ProStart educators during the course of their year in the ProStart program. These teams and teachers spend the year honing their skills, practicing for countless hours after school and on the weekends. The teens are not just competing for bragging rights as state champions, as the winning team becomes Team Utah and moves on to the National ProStart Invitational later this spring and will compete against their peers in all 50 states and other US territories. Scoring consists of floor judging on knife skills, mis-en-place, menu execution, sanitation, uniforms, teamwork and food safety among other things. The tasting judges score innovative flavor profiles and recipes according to very strict guidelines. The teams are also judged on costing and menu pricing. Twenty-one high schools competed at two regional competitions during February with thirteen schools moving on to compete against one another at state. First place region winners are also last year’s state champions (placing 12th nationally) Alta High School, Farmington High School placing second, with Murray High School finishing in third. Other teams moving on to state competition include Provo High School, Highland High School, Westlake High School, Weber High School, Bingham High School, East High School, Jordan High School, Mountain Ridge High School, Desert Hills High School, and Pineview High School.

The management competition places emphasis on front of the house comprehension by encouraging overall business skills and concept development. Teams choose between varying styles of restaurants located inside the fictional ProStartVille City limits and must construct a business plan, branding layout, menu design, restaurant floor plan and design, marketing and finally, answer a series of critical thinking questions. Teams of four present their unique restaurant concepts to restaurateurs and restaurant professionals from around the state who judge them accordingly. Last year’s Utah management team, Provo High School, represented Utah very well and placed third in the nation at the National ProStart Invitational in 2019. 

ProStart is a two-year high school program composed of curriculum created by the nation’s top restaurant industry professionals. It is taught by ProStart educators in their classrooms to develop the best and brightest talent for tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.  Under the leadership and guidance of URA president Melva Sine, Utah was the pioneer state for the ProStart program in 1996 and continues to feed dreams, build futures and change lives in Utah and across the nation.  This year the URA and it’s extraordinary teachers trained over 1500 students.  “ProStart is more than just a foods course in culinary arts. It helps inspire and educate our future generation of restaurateurs, chefs, managers, and culinary professionals. It also provides our teens with marketable skills so that they may become whatever they desire to be. ProStart provides a perfect forum to introduce the students to the industry and also the industry to the students. The caliber of food and restaurant concepts these teens and their teachers are developing and creating is extraordinary. Our future is bright,”  acknowledges Sine.

With rules and regulations as strict as professional culinary competitions, the top performing team in Management and Culinary competitions from state progress to the national competition May 8-10 in Washington DC where they will compete against all 50 states and other US territories. 

Stuart is the founder, writer and wrangler at several sites including Gastronomic SLC, Utah Now and, The Utah Review; Stuart is a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune and has worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.