Recipe for success: Culinary contestants learn restaurant biz

Tristan Carey with the Fruita Monument High School ProStart team making Involtini Di Vitella(Veal Rolls) at Western Colorado Community College Saturday afternoon.The WCCC culinary program hosted the 12th annual Colorado ProStart Western Slope Culinary Competition, February 22, from 8:30 - until 2:30. The competitors are high school juniors and seniors. This year the competition have added a management competition, where students present a business plan for a restaurant concept to judges. Schools participating this year include:Aspen,Durango,Fruita,Palisade Youth Entity - Carbondale

The Colorado ProStart Western Slope Culinary Competition Saturday was like “Iron Chef” meets “Shark Tank.”

Preparing a three-course meal on two burners in less than one hour was just one skill culinary teams from five western Colorado high schools were required to display during competition at Western Colorado Community College on Saturday.

The culinary teams were only part of the story. A management team from each school also competed by developing a restaurant business plan and pitching it to judges who could have been investors.

Both the culinary and management teams gained hands-on experience in different aspects of the restaurant business, but of more immediate importance, prepared for the high-pressure, statewide ProStart competition at Johnson & Wales University in Denver on March 21.

Success at the state level could win the competitor a trip to the national championship where $750,000 in scholarship money will be divided among the best high school chefs and restaurant managers in the nation.

Chef Rustin Newton of Motus Italian Kitchen in Durango, a mentor for the Durango High School culinary team, said his students spent as many as 20 hours a week over and above their normal weekly schedule to prepare for the event.

Lamb cuts wrapped in lamb sausage, sea scallops braised golden brown and a creamy, berry desert rounded out Durango’s three-course offering.

During mentored work experiences, Palisade High School culinary team coach and teacher Linda Motz said ProStart students master the skills that industry experts identify as critical to success:

■ Knife skills

■ Customer service

■ Cost control

■ Culinary techniques

■ Marketing

Students also learn the importance of arriving on time prepared for work, teamwork and accountability, Motz said.

Costing out the menu was the most difficult part of the culinary team’s job said Maria Romero, a chef on the Fruita Monument culinary team.

“It was intense,” Romero said. “Cooking under time pressure was tough.”

For the management teams, creating a menu might have been the most difficult task, according to Valerie Garcia of the Fruita Monument team.

“It was difficult to come up with entrees that would complement the dessert,” she said.

Sports grills provided the theme for Fruita Monument’s restaurant that featured a menu of fast finger foods and appetizers that were easy to eat. They combined pizza fondue with cheesy sauce on homemade French bread along with boneless, barbecue chicken wings and sweet funnel cakes.

Garcia’s teammate, Tanner Shaw, disagreed. The floor plan — making what the team wanted and needed work in the available space — was the most difficult task for the managers. “We pretty much learned how a restaurant works. We got a deeper, inside look,” Shaw said. “I think it would be pretty cool to own a restaurant.”


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