Skip to Content

Competition heats up for culinary, hospitality state championship

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

High school students from across the state converged on the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines today in hopes of becoming the next Iowa ProStart Invitational champions in culinary arts and restaurant management.

Hosted by the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation, the Iowa ProStart Invitational provides a venue for top high school teams to demonstrate their skills, network with industry professionals, and compete for the opportunity to represent Iowa at the National ProStart Invitational, which will be held in Providence, R.I., in April.

“The ProStart Invitational is a full day of competition,” said May Schaben, executive director of the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation. “It is like ‘Top Chef’ in the morning for the culinary teams and ‘Shark Tank’ style in the afternoon where hospitality management students create their own restaurant concept and pitch it to a team of industry professionals.”

May Schaben, for the story, the executive director of the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

May Schaben, the executive director of the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

Teams from 14 Iowa high schools are competing in the culinary competition where they will have one hour to create a three-course meal. The students will be judged on product taste, knife skills, teamwork, safety and sanitation, menu and recipe development, and costing. 

West High School in Waterloo is the three-time reigning state culinary champion. West High School’s FSC and culinary teacher Tracey Hulme says her team is prepared to defend that title.

“To win the ProStart Invitational three times in a row takes the right kids who are willing to work hard, some luck, a supportive school, a great community chef mentor, a lot of patience, and an obsessively organized instructor,” Hulme said.

In the management competition, six competing teams will be judged on the overall restaurant concept, menu and costing, restaurant layout and staffing, marketing tactics, and how well the students can think on their feet.

“Students have to be able to react decisively, overcome obstacles, and answer questions posed by industry professionals,” Schaben said.

“These are important skills regardless of what career path students ultimately choose. Soft skills, such as customer service, how to sell yourself in an interview, crisis management – these are all taught in a ProStart classroom. These are transferable skills that are important to survive in college, on the job, and in life.”

The invitational is just one part of the ProStart program, which is a nation-wide, two-year program that blends classroom learning with industry experience. The industry-driven curriculum also incorporates mentored work experiences. Students who pass level 1 and level 2 exams in the Foundations of Restaurant Management and Culinary Arts curriculum, demonstrate proficiency in more than 50 workplace competencies, and complete 400 hours of mentored work experience earn an industry-recognized certificate.

Fletcher Tingle
Fletcher Tingle

“Choosing ProStart as a high school class was the first step in finding my way in life,” said Fletcher Tingle, a former ProStart student from Waukee High School.

After graduating high school, Tingle continued his education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“The Culinary Institute was a very fast-paced, fully immersive experience,” Tingle said. “ProStart helped prepare me to take on that challenge by giving me a peek into the industry.”

Tingle earned his bachelor’s degree in hospitality and business with a minor in advanced wine. He also completed the Institute’s post-graduate manager-in-training program. Tingle currently operates an up-and-coming restaurant in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York called The Amsterdam.

Hospitality is a growing and diverse industry with a wide variety of career opportunities from chefs and general managers to event planners, trainers and human resource professionals. Schaben said the hospitality industry is the second-largest private sector employer in Iowa, second only to health care. One in 10 working Iowans currently works in the hospitality industry.

“Like other top industries, the hospitality industry struggles with finding enough skilled workers in all areas,” Schaben said. “ProStart helps students to not just discover their passion, but to nurture it by providing college credit, industry-recognized credentials, and college scholarships.”

Nationally, ProStart has partnerships with over 75 culinary schools and colleges. In Iowa, the program has articulation agreements with four Iowa community colleges, which grant college credit to ProStart students who have earned the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement – the Iowa Culinary Institute at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), Indian Hills Community College, Iowa Western Community College, and Western Iowa Tech Community College.

“Putting in the work to earn the certification is definitely worth it,” Schaben said. “For example, Indian Hills Community College awards 13 credits to ProStart students entering their culinary program and DMACC awards 11 credits.”

Cody Davis earned his ProStart National Certificate of Achievement while a student at Waukee High School. This designation provided him with advantages when applying for admission to DMACC’s Culinary Institute of Iowa.

“Because of my ProStart experience and my certificate of achievement, I was able to skip ahead of the waiting list for admission,” Davis said. “I also was awarded college credit and was able to skip the Food Prep 1 class as well as the safety and sanitation class, which saved me a lot of money.”

Davis currently works as a restaurant manager at Chili’s in Ankeny where he sees the benefits that a ProStart education provides. 

“ProStart really gives job applicants in the industry a competitive advantage,” Davis said. “It provides structure, the competitions help you learn to work under pressure and handle stress, and you have a foundation of the basics.”

Jenee Cross, ProStart teacher from Davenport Community Schools, has teams of students participating in both the culinary arts and hospitality management competitions. Davenport Community Schools is home to the oldest ProStart program in the state, dating all the way back to 1998. The competition provides the opportunity for her students to take ownership in their learning.

“Preparing for the competition, my students realize that they are all equally responsible for success,” Cross said. ‘They can’t rely on just one person because it is a shared experience. My role is to guide and provide feedback, but the students have to know it and own it. They really learn how to work together and support each other.”

About 50 percent of Cross’s students go into the hospitality industry after graduating high school.

“The most rewarding is when I work with students who really didn’t feel connected to anything prior to ProStart,” she said. “This program provides a support system and network and you start to feel connected just because of the nature of serving others. I have seen the spark ignite when students feel a part of something bigger and the sense of accomplishment they have through helping others.”

More information about ProStart is available on the Iowa Restaurant Association’s website.  

Check back here later today to see the outcome of the competition. Pictures of the competition also will be posted on the Iowa Department of Education’s Flickr gallery.

Culinary Competition Winners:

First place: Waterloo West (four-time winner)

Second place: Cedar Rapids Community School District

Third place: Hampton-Dumont High School

Management Competition Winners:

First place: Des Moines Central Campus

Second place: Waukee High School

Third place: Hampton-Dumont High School

Management Competition Teams

  • Davenport Community Schools
  • Des Moines Central Campus
  • Hampton-Dumont High School
  • Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School
  • Sioux City East High School
  • Waukee High School

Culinary Competition Teams

  • Adel-Desoto-Minburn High School 
  • Alburnett High School 
  • Burlington High School 
  • Cedar Rapids Community Schools
  • Cherokee Washington High School
  • Davenport Community Schools
  • Des Moines Central Campus
  • Hampton-Dumont High School
  •  Mt. Pleasant High School
  • Saydel High School
  • Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School
  • Sioux City East High School
  • Waterloo West High School
  • Waukee High School

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on March 21, 2018 at 7:35am.