Standing in the bleachers, a nervous mother whispers to herself under her breath. It has all come down to this moment—all the practice, all the extra time. “Come on honey, you can do it!” she belts out across the room as the tension builds. Her daughter either doesn’t hear the call or is too absorbed in what she’s doing to notice, and instead puts her training into action. With one clean move, as the clock clicks down, she dips, leans, and deftly maneuvers a perfectly executed pan flip, revealing a brown and crispy crab cake ready to plate.
A couple of weeks ago when marketing reps from ProStart emailed, asking if I would consider checking out a high school cooking competition, I agreed. I expected a small affair, maybe a few kids, a couple of older mentor type chefs judging, and participation prizes for all at the end (the fact that they had marketing reps at all should have probably clued me in for a bigger deal).
This weekend’s National ProStart Invitational had teams from 46 states competing for $3.75 million in scholarships. The young competitors were serious, highly trained, and intense in their execution. Bleachers were packed. Film crews rolled. Judges came from around the country, including Chef Walter Scheib, former White House chef, as well as local celeb favorite, Tim McKee.
The two-pronged competition focused on a high paced cooking event with a three course meal prepared on two burners in 60 minutes, as well as a Shark Tank-style business proposal for a new restaurant concept.
As the restaurant industry continues to grow, young people attracted to the industry have found a way to hone skills, engage in competition, and hopefully win money toward their education. Many of the competitors have plans to “go pro”, with a good chunk of them already accepted at cooking schools around the country.
I tried asking one of the moms about the training and how the year had been going for her and her son-competitor, but I don’t think she heard me. All she said was, “Yes! I think he’s in the zone!”