Culinary students put their skills to the test at Jeff State

Student chefs from Holtville High School compete in the 2015 ProStart Student Invitational competition at the Jefferson State Community College Shelby-Hoover campus on Feb. 7. (Special to the Reporter / Jon Goering)

Student chefs from Holtville High School compete in the 2015 ProStart Student Invitational competition at the Jefferson State Community College Shelby-Hoover campus on Feb. 7. (Special to the Reporter / Jon Goering)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

HOOVER—Prepare a restaurant quality three-course meal using only two burners, no running water and no electricity, all in under 60 minutes. Those were the parameters given to the high school students involved in the first state-level ProStart Invitational culinary competition at Jefferson State Community College on Feb. 7.

Teams of culinary students from across the state raced against the clock to complete a unique three-course meal. Nine judges evaluated the high school chefs on a variety of categories, from knife skills and sanitary practices to the menu and ability to price each dish.

“It’s all over the place,” ProStart National Program Manager Greg Beachey said of the competition’s categories of evaluation. “You can do a great tasting plate here and not win.”

The competition tested students on the skills they learn in the high school level ProStart culinary curriculum, taught at schools across the state and country, and awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships to winning students and teams.

“(The ProStart curriculum) prepares them to go right into college and be successful, or walk into a career,” Beachey explained.

Leah Van Deren, a Jeff State culinary alum and teacher at the Shelby County College and Career Center, said she is looking to enter her students in the ProStart state-level competition next year.

“We’re starting it next year, the ProStart curriculum,” Van Deren said, highlighting ProStart’s emphasis on “real world” skills. “I want my kids to get scholarships,” she added.

The Feb. 7 competition gave the high school chefs an opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge and also gave them a taste of the challenges chefs face in the workplace every day.

“This is really similar to a restaurant setting because of the time limit that they have,” Beth Leon, former commercial chef and current culinary instructor at Homewood High School, said of the competition.

Following the cooking competition, teams of students also participated in a management competition in which they created a “restaurant concept from scratch and presented it to judges as if they were investors,” Beachey said.

All aspects of the Feb. 7 competition prepared the students to take their skills to the next level.

“We see it funneling into a win-win,” Jeff State Chef Instructor Todd Jackson said. “The techniques, the knife skills, we reinforce that and bring it together.”