Food News

Colorado ProStart Competition Inspires Hope for the Future of Hospitality

Students compete in the ProStart culinary competition.
Students compete in the ProStart culinary competition. Mark Antonation
On a very snowy day in late February, nearly 100 students from fifteen high schools around the state gathered at the Gaylord Rockies Resort for the Colorado ProStart Student Invitational. But no amount of cold could put a chill on the excitement — especially since this annual competition has been on hiatus since 2019.

ProStart is a national two-year program offered at participating schools across the country for high school juniors and seniors interested in the culinary arts. Colorado's ProStart program is run by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation (CRF), Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) and the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, and provides high school and college academic credit, scholarships and paid work experience opportunities for students.

"Can everyone introduce yourselves and talk a bit about why you're here?" asked a CRA representative overseeing the room where I helped judge the management competition, in which teams of students present a restaurant concept complete with menu, business plan, marketing plan, layout and design.

The answers from judges, most of them restaurant owners and employees, had a common theme: inspiration. We all hoped to get fresh perspective on the restaurants of the future from the next generation of hospitality professionals.

And these students came through. They were savvy about using social media as a marketing tool, conscious of having a business model that also supported community needs, and creative with both fare — like kabobs in flavors from around the world — and concept. How about a car-themed diner for the untapped auto-enthusiast market?
click to enlarge Colorado Restaurant Foundation president Laura Shunk (left) with the Hospitality Cup winner, ThunderRidge High School. - COLORADO RESTAURANT FOUNDATION
Colorado Restaurant Foundation president Laura Shunk (left) with the Hospitality Cup winner, ThunderRidge High School.
Colorado Restaurant Foundation
The winner of gold in the management competition, the ThunderRidge High School team, impressed us with the students' composure and ability to answer questions on the fly about the nitty-gritty of their concept, Slurp Ramen.

Over at the culinary competition, students skillfully weaved around each other while cooking at stations where a crowd watched. Judges included Bellota executive chef Manny Barella, who'd found out the day before that he'd received his first James Beard nomination, as well as Megan Read, a ProStart student herself in Florida before she attended culinary school in New York and started her own business, Black Box Bakery, in Denver. Fruita Monument High School took gold in the culinary showdown.

Each gold-medal-winning team has the chance to go on to the national competition in Washington, D.C., this May. But the real winners are all of us, because with talent and motivation like this, the future of restaurants looks bright. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin