ProStart students create plated bliss
A couple months ago, I heard about two local ProStart high school hospitality and culinary eduction programs and made plans to visit the class at Fruita Monument High School.
Then ProStart — the program is at Palisade High School as well as Fruita Monument — was in the news for receiving a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment grant and participating in the ProStart Culinary Competition at Western Colorado Community College on Saturday.
There also will be a state competition in March.
ProStart equips students with the skills they need to enter the food service and hospitality industries right out of high school or to use those skills as prep for college or further training. The two-part program focuses on the business/management and the culinary components of restaurant/hospitality business.
So when I walked into Cheryl Tennant’s ProStart class last week at Fruita Monument, I was welcomed by Brianna Smith, Lovely Donis, Evan Simpson and Jasmine Trimarco.
The four friendly ProStart students were busy with clean-up duties, including washing dishes. We then sat down to chat while four other students had a practice session in preparation for the Saturday competition.
Why join the ProStart program? I asked.
All four said they like to cook, but wanted to improve their skills, increase the variety of foods they prepare and learn more about foods and nutrition.
Brianna said they learned that cooking foods to recommended food safety temperatures also results in cooked-to-perfection dishes, such as her favorite: steak.
The girls said they have used that technique with lamb, a meat most of them had never previously eaten.
Evan said her family is in the restaurant business, and the business classes are as important to her as the culinary ones.
But ProStart also has led a passion for Asian food for Evan. “I’m constantly creating and trying new dishes at home,” she said. “Desserts are also fun to make. I’m working on a new recipe called Desert Dessert. It’s a secret for now.”
All four students said learning knife skills is one of the most important techniques for a chef or home cooks.
And baking: It’s a science and calls for sticking to the recipe, the girls said.
ProStart not only has taught the students skills and teamwork, it has given them friendship. Many of them didn’t know each other before ProStart, but they have become friends and now do things together outside of class, they said.
On that note, I began talking with the four students who had been preparing for the culinary competition.
Cody Baker has been cooking on his own since he was 10. While the business management part of the program has taught him a lot, the culinary side is his favorite, he said.
He likes discovering new foods, and his new favorite is jicama, which he described as having a “unique, but semi-familiar taste.”
Classmate Bryce Hahn came to ProStart with a different background.
“I wanted to learn some basic cooking skills, Little did I know I was in for a lot more. I had never imagined becoming a chef, mostly because I couldn’t cook. I had no idea how to cook or run a business in the industry,” he said.
Now he would like to earn a bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition and dietetics for a career in hospitals and clinics.
“The skills and hands-on experience open up amazing opportunities coming by way of this program,” Bryce said.
Kaleigh Moschetti agreed. “ProStart became a chain reaction for me,” she said. “The more I got involved, the more doors opened because it’s not only an amazing cooking and management class, it’s a leadership class and you get to meet amazing and unique people through this program.”
Kaleigh has started cooking at home and her eating habits have changed for the better as higher standards run through her mind every time she cooks or eats.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to speak with Bryce Wilkerson, the fourth member of the team. But I’m pretty sure he would agree with all the above, a conclusion I came to from watching his dedication to the team.
Thank you to the ProStart students for a fabulous and informative time.