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Bringing Young Professionals into the Industry

ProStart students prepare small plates for tasting at the Stars of the Future event at the W.

The annual Stars of the Future, where high school culinary students partner with local chefs for a small-plates fundraiser, was held at the W Hotel in early November. Hosted by Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation’s ProStart program, Stars’ proceeds go to support student travel and participation fees for ProStart’s international competition, which will be held in May 2019 in Washington, D.C.

“Students from Minnesota had to pay for travel out of their own pockets,” said Minnesota Restaurant Association Chair Peter Mihajilov. “We decided to have this fundraiser to help send them to nationals.” Mihajilov, co-founder of Parasole Restaurant Holdings, helped create the fundraiser almost a decade ago.

ProStart, a two-year culinary program for high school students, was created by the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation in 2008, according to coordinator Cyndi Keesee. Fifty-eight high schools offer the program, which includes a chef mentor at every school and events such as the international competition. “We started the program because there are so many jobs in the field, but a lack of trained people,” Keesee said. Students can also earn college credit in the program.

Eight schools were represented. Those who get to showcase their creations with their chef mentors are chosen on a “first come, first served” basis, according to Mary Smith, marketing and communication manager for Hospitality Minnesota.

“Not everyone wants to be a scholar,” said Smith of the current academic climate that tends to push academia over trade careers. “We want to get kids out there in the industry.”

Josh Walbolt, current chef de cuisine at Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley, started his career with ProStart as a junior in high school. In 2010 and 2011, Walbolt competed and won state both years, and after graduating returned to be a judge for ProStart.

“Working with students helps me realize what I don’t know,” Walbolt said. “I’m always learning.” He explained techniques that they teach the kids, including “bubble mapping,” or planning a menu. Often, he will start with one ingredient and build upon what tastes good with that main ingredient, adding components from there.

Multiple students claimed their love of cooking sparked from basic foundations of food and culinary classes in high school. Often stumbling into it, many claimed they later “fell in love with cooking.”

At a time when many culinary schools are struggling with enrollment decline, programs like ProStart are more and more beneficial. Training students at a younger age and educating them on the career paths available to them will hopefully lead them to successful futures in the industry, both Keesee and Smith mentioned. “These kids are amazing,” Keesee said.

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