On March 11 at the University of New Hampshire, 7 high school teams will compete at the NH State ProStart Competition with the opportunity to represent NH at the National ProStart Competition in South Carolina in April.

At the state competition, participating teams will demonstrate their respective creative abilities through the preparation of a three-course meal in 60 minutes with just two butane burners and without any access to running water or electricity.

“It’s pretty intense—it’s wonderful to watch,” said Chef Gary Sheldon, who started ProStart competitions in both Maine and New Hampshire.

Currently in charge of ensuring all participating schools adhere to ProStart guidelines he helped develop, Sheldon said successful completion of the program positions graduates for long-term success in the industry.

“In the competitions, the students must do a cost analysis on their recipes and work with others as an actual team,” he noted. “That’s what I love about ProStart—it’s what real life is all about. Students also earn ‘passports’ after completing ProStart, which gets them scholarship money to any post-secondary school in the country.”

Education Programs Coordinator at the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association (NHLRA), Amie Pariseau said ProStart can have a tremendous impact on students and on their future employment in the lodging and restaurant industries.

“While celebrating the competition and our hard-working students, we hope to showcase that culinary is a fun, lifelong potential vocation and bring awareness to the educational opportunities available,” she said.

For Robert Mcintosh, instructor in the Culinary Arts with Baking at Concord Regional Technical Center, the experiences offered within CTE programming helps build soft skills that are necessary to succeed in business and in life.

“Teamwork, communication, and professionalism all help prepare a student to be successful in the workplace and are part of teaching any trade,” he said. “What most students start to understand is how much of an integral part they play in day to day life as well. Not all my students stay in the culinary field, but all the ones that stay in touch talk about how the soft skills they learned in a CTE class helped them talk to bosses, professors and how comfortable they are working with people in their field.”

Instructor in the culinary program at Portsmouth Career Technical Center, Chef Perrin Long said this year represents his team’s fourth time at the NH State ProStart Competition. His team made it to the nationals in both 2014 (Minneapolis) and 2015 (Disney-Anaheim), although he acknowledged they ran into some issues last year.

“Our menu was too aggressive and we did not place,” he said. “This year, the students have designed their own menu and the ‘buy in’ they have in the process is tremendous.”

Echoing sentiments express by Sheldon, he said competitions like ProStart help strengthen and build students’ abilities.

“Students that compete are typically much more advanced than their counterparts because of the exposure they have had during practices, critiques and the competition,” he said.

According to Pariseau, her role is to try and build and strengthen relationships with—and between—both school districts and hotel/restaurant industry professionals.

“We are trying to build the next big thing for students in this industry,” she said. “We also strongly believe in ProStart and other education programs out there and the impact they have on students and their ability to enter the workforce.”

Expressing enthusiasm for the upcoming state competition, Sheldon said the demand in industry for individuals who have completed ProStart and CTE culinary programs has never been greater.

“I get calls all the time from people in industry looking for skilled help,” he said. “Students in ProStart are developing professional skills so they can walk into any restaurant and they are not lost. These kids are the industry’s future…I’ll take a ProStart kid over any journeyman cook who has been in the field for 15 years.”