Delaware High School Culinary Stars Take their Game to National Showdown

The budding Bobby Flays, Jose Garces and Rachael Rays of Delaware had to serve up their very best to get past eighteen other local high school culinary teams to participate in a national cook-off.  The ProStart Student Invitational is an exciting match-up of young culinary talent – Delaware’s interscholastic version of Iron Chef. The competition also recognizes restaurant management innovation.

The top two teams at this year’s competition — Dover High School and Cape Henlopen – wowed the judges, nabbing 1stplace with a delectable three-course meal (Dover) and a novel food truck/restaurant concept (Cape).

After besting their in-state rivals, the Dover and Cape students didn’t have much time to rest on their laurels; following that March 2ndwin, each went on to face approximately 400 students from all over the U.S. in the National ProStart Invitational, held in Providence, Rhode Island from April 27-29.

Dover dominated the state competition with a three-course menu, cooked in 60 minutes with only two butane burners. Their Cavatelli with Spring Pea Sauce appetizer, Filet Mignon with Creamy Polenta entrée and Apple Salted Caramel Mousse dessert were judged on taste, presentation and innovation.

The sixth annual competition marked Dover’s first win, beating out other competitors who put forth spectacles such as an inflated mozzarella ball. Their appetizer took 1st place in the Delaware competition and was also highly favored by the Rhode Island judges.

Cape Henlopen celebrated their fourth management win, pitching a fully conceived restaurant concept: a food truck serving Japanese, Mediterranean and Mexican food, named “The Globe.” That team was judged on planning, marketing and critical thinking skills. Winning team members received prize packs and restaurant gift cards, and eligibility for a large field of college scholarships widened dramatically.

Run by the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (DRAEF), the ProStart program is a two-year culinary curriculum that is available to students in eighteen Delaware public high schools. DRAEF “leads the nation in ProStart student success and in the development of cutting-edge education and training.”

Successes include extremely high participation rates for competitions compared to other states, and interactive links ranging from job opportunities to scholarship information to employment tracking. The career-building program blends classroom learning with mentored work experience to teach high school students the management and culinary skills needed for entry into the workforce or continuing their postsecondary education.

“This competition gives students the opportunity to bring to life the culinary and management skills they have gained through the ProStart program,” said Carrie Leishman, President & CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association. “These students have spent countless hours throughout the academic year with their educators and mentors, preparing for this event. It’s a day of fierce competition, but also learning, life experience and camaraderie.”

In Rhode Island, the students were treated to surprise appearances from Ted Allen, host of “Chopped” on the Food Network and author of “In My Kitchen,” and Nicole Silva, entrepreneur and founder of Crumbles by Nicole and a finalist on ABC’s “The Great Holiday Baking Show.”

Following the two competitions, the students were invited to Dover’s Legislative Hall on May 8th. They were recognized on the floor of the Delaware House of Representatives, and met Governor John Carney, who echoed praise for the winning students, calling them our true “next generation of industry leaders and business owners.” 

Dover students also served their winning dish at the Annual DRAEF fundraising Dinner at Harry’s Savoy on April 11, 2018.  

Photo captions:


First photo: 1st Place Culinary Student Winners (in white): Dover educator Trina Stump, Alicia Dennin, Nicole Mitchell, Athena Wolff, Charles Logan Gibson + 1st Place Management Students from Cape Henlopen (in red): Jasmine Mayo and Alyssa Ling with educator Jennifer Cornell.

Pic with Delaware Governor John Carney: Back Row: Rep. Steve Smyk, DRAEF Director of Education Raelynn Grogan, Rep. Ron Gray, Jasmine Mayo (Cape), Gov. Carney, teacher Jennifer Cornell (Cape), Athena Wolff (Dover), Nicole Mitchell (Dover), teacher Trina Stump (Dover), CTE Supervisor Eugene Montano, DRA President & CEO Carrie Leishman, Rep. Ruth Briggs-King. Front Row: Alyssa Ling (Cape), and Dover’s Riley Maldonado, Charles Logan Gibson, Alicia Dennin.

Photo contributed by Delaware Restaurant Association and attendees.

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About the Contributor

JulieAnne Cross

JulieAnne Cross

JulieAnne Cross has built a career around making her home state a fun place to live, working with restaurateurs, festivals, artists and arts organizations to bring people together for good times.