The Road to Nationals: NYS ProStart Winners Prepare for the National Competition
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The dinner started with ravioli stuffed with salmon, cheese and potatoes, then moved on to a locally raised pan roasted duck breast with a cherry merlot sauce paired with a savory bread pudding. The finale was the chocolate cream tartlet with a raspberry coulis topped with candied pecans. Sorry, diners won't be able get reservations here any time soon. That's because this meal was prepared by high school juniors and seniors as part of their preparation for the National ProStart Invitational, which will be held in Minneapolis in early May.
Weeks earlier, a similar dinner was created at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, where students from all over the state competed in the 10th Annual New York State ProStart Invitational. In an exciting surprise the two winning teams, one for the culinary competition and one from management competition, were both from Capital Region Career and Technical School in Schoharie County, New York.
Now the students are vigorously preparing to head to the nationals, with a little guidance from teachers and mentors who are often lucky enough to sample some of the fruits of their labor.
For the competition, the management team designed a space that incorporates a greenhouse where diners can see exactly where their food is growing. Rhianon Sherry, a member of the management team, added some flourishes to the executive plan for her team's restaurant: Maison Verte.
"Healthy food and farm-to-table is very popular now, so we wanted to work around that," said Sherry."In our dining room our customers can view a greenhouse that is used for a kitchen, and they can see where certain aspects of their food are coming from, and we also made available a public greenhouse so customers can purchase fresh foods for themselves and make things for themselves and others. We also made available Frais our juice bar, which has nutritional juices which are very popular now."
The culinary team is equally as ambitious. Although they served chicken for their main course during the state competition, they upped their game and tried out duck for the nationals. "For most of them, [duck] it's new definitely cooking and tasting it. So they're enjoying it," said Nancy Iannacone, the students' teacher.
"It was the first time being introduced to duck, and it's a whole other cooking process," said Tyler Lalli, a member of the culinary team. His culinary ambitions were inspired by his uncle Robert Lalli who is a chef and was a member of Iannacone's first class.
"We really have an obligation in our industry. These kids are the future of the industry, and it’s a rapidly changing industry, so honestly we can probably learn as much from this experience and these kids as they can from us," said Donna Purnomo of Yono's and dp An American Brasserie in Albany, who was a judge during the state competition and came back to work with the management team before they headed off to nationals. "It's a win-win," she added.
Chef Yono Purnomo, owner and chef of Yono’s and dp An American Brasserie in Albany, thinks their competition is good for the youngest members of the industry. "When you start to compete normally you stay the course, so it's really important that young people today are competing in the profession." Yono judged the state competition and came back to offer suggestions to the winning culinary team on their menus. Yono likened the students' meal to that of "a four star restaurant."
Rick Sampson, the former president and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association, who currently focuses on educational programs and services for the association, thanked all those helping the students, including Elizabeth Soscia, Eucation Coordinator for the NYS Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, and Certified Master Chef Dale Miller, a former executive chef at Sperry's in Saratoga Spring who now runs a restaurant consulting firm. Their mentorship "shows the commitment that these have for the future of our industry," he said. Sampson has been instrumental in expanding the ProStart program in New York State.
Many of Iannacone's students plan on continuing their culinary education after graduation, but the competition and training seems to have imparted life lessons to the students that they can use wherever their lives take them.
"In the kitchen you have to definitely utilize your time and have very good communication skills with your partner," said Tyler Foland a member of the culinary team.
Of course, there's certainly a hope that these young adults stick with their culinary dreams, if only so we can all enjoy the outcomes. "Unbelievable! Absolutely unbelievable, not only in taste but presentation," said Sampson after sampling the culinary teams menu. "You cannot believe what juniors and seniors in high school can put out." Imagine what they'll be cooking up in a few years.
The National ProStart Invitational took place on May 3-5, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN. Both teams did great! The NYSRAEF could not be more proud of both teams’ performances. The full New York State Management team competing is: Rhianon Sherry, Alyssa Schifferdecker, Chris McClure, Savannah Pfohl and Krysta Robert. The competing Culinary team includes: Dak Kruglak, Tyler Foland, Tyler Lalli, Tara Nunez and Kristin Kruglak. Both teams are from the Capital Regional Career & Technical School – Schoharie Campus and their teacher/ coach is Nancy Iannacone.