New York / Vermont ProStart Educator of the Year Awards

ProStart Educator of the Year Awards

Winners of Educator of the Year award accepting trophies

We are pleased to announce Kendell Brenner, Culinary Arts Instructor at Rockland BOCES in West Nyack NY, and Trace Heidenreich, Culinary Arts Instructor at River Bend Career & Technical Center in Bradford, VT, as the 2023 ProStart Educators of the Year for their respective states. This award recognizes outstanding ProStart educators who demonstrate excellence in the classroom and passion, creativity, and commitment to helping students pursue opportunities in culinary arts and restaurant management. Both educators are now finalists for awards given by The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation at the annual Educator of Excellence Awards in Dallas, Texas in July!

Kendell Brenner, New York ProStart Educator of the Year

1. When did you realize you had a passion for the hospitality industry? It was pretty much right after high school, I had my first kitchen job at Sapertios in the north end of New Rochelle, in the early 80s.

2. What made you decide to become an educator? I had a catering company and private cooking school/camp for kids, 2006 to 2017, that was renting a kitchen space from the Nyack Community Center – and all the pieces lined up and I never looked back.

3. What is the biggest benefit in participating in the National ProStart program? Being that there is an actual curriculum to use with students that aligns with not only the NYS standards but also what is needed in the industry.

4. What do you consider the most creative thing you have done to engage your students? It’s a big list, from creating public events such as, Hudson Valley Chili Fest @ Rockland BOCES, the Smoke and Fire Food Fest, buying a hot dog cart for students to sell hot dogs, and most recently working on a custom built food truck for 2024. For me its all about always raising the bar.

5. What does receiving the Educator of the Year award mean to you? It’s a great feeling to be recognized by industry educators for the time and effort that goes into the culinary and hospitality careers, and shows the students that hard work pays off.

Trace Heidenreich, Vermont ProStart Educator of the Year

  1. When did you realize you had a passion for the hospitality industry? At my elementary school in 5th grade my teacher, Mrs Maxwell, allowed the class from time to time to mix up box cake cupcakes to share in the class as a special treat. It was in her class that I began to gain interest in the culinary world. I was able to explore my interest in her class, and also dabbled in cooking at home. One of my first real cooking lessons with Mrs Maxwell was when I cooked the muffins I quickly learned the difference between bake and broil. I accidently set the oven to broil with the cupcakes and learned the hard way that it did matter which option that I used. After that, I didn’t stop pursuing my found passion.
  2. What made you decide to become an educator?
    In my career I regularly found myself in a coaching and mentoring role to my employees and fellow coworkers. I found a sense of fulfillment when I could help build someone else’s skills and abilities in their chosen field. After moving back to VT with my wife and one year old child after being in NC for 10 years,  I was working in the industry at a corporate office headquarters running their dining and catering program. In this position I found myself away from my family and young daughter for an extended amount of time. I started to consider what my priorities were, and when I heard of the opening at the local CTE center for a Chef/Instructor position I started to remember my passion of mentoring people in their chosen field as well as remembered all of the strong teachers and role models that helped me along in my interests. From there it was taking a big leap of faith and pursuing a shift in my career path to become an instructor.
  3. What is the biggest benefit in participating in the National ProStart program?
    The biggest benefit that I find in participating in the National ProStart program is the amount of opportunities that it provides to both students and educators. For the students, they gain exposure to different sides of the industry where they can see their fellow peers competing in a similar area of interest. The students are able to participate in a state/national competition, able to have doors opened through scholarships and work opportunities. Most importantly, they are able to envision themselves as a part of an industry that they are interested in and they can envision a path forward towards their goals. As an educator, I am able to use the ProStart program to scaffold vital learning for the students throughout the whole year. I am able to do this in a way that falls under their team’s competition goals. Doing this reinforces the required learning while the students think they are simply pursuing their team’s interest in the overall competition. Also, I am able to have different level students take leadership roles in the class showing and teaching fellow students what they know and then collaborating to overcome different challenges throughout the whole process.
  4.  What do you consider the most creative thing you have done to engage your students?
    One of the most creative things that I am able to do with the students is a project near the end of the year. I have my students design their own lesson plans and take the lead in their learning. In late April and early May, I have my students take a detailed look at a topic area of their choosing (with guidance). They are expected to develop a topic where they present to their peers a 10 minute presentation, conduct a research paper on their topic, and most importantly, they design an interactive demonstration/tasting of their chosen topic areas. In this exercise, students are able to pursue a specific topic area of their choosing, learn more on the topic and show and share their learning with their peers. At the end of the school year when students are losing focus, it is a fun and interactive way to engage the students giving them choice in their learning, while still allowing for valuable learning during that time.
  5. What does receiving the Educator of the Year award mean to you?
    Receiving the Educator of Excellence for 2023 in Vermont gives validation of my choice to shift my career path in my late 30’s to become a Chef/Instructor. The award means that through the challenges that it has taken for me to become an educator for the past 5 years, that I have made the right choice to focus my efforts on building up future food service professionals. Our small rural area is extremly short on food service professionals, so if I can do my part to help foster the interest in students while they are in high school, I can slowly have a compounding positive effect on my local community.