Aspiring restaurateurs advance to national competition |

Aspiring restaurateurs advance to national competition

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Contributed photoYouthEntity ProStart program team members and their schools, from left, Shion Reilly, Basalt High (management team); Cynthia Ayala, Roaring Fork High (culinary and management teams); Naomi Peters, Bridges High (culinary/management); Cristian Mendez, Basalt (management); Amilcar Henriquez, Basalt (culinary); and Temo Fregoso, Roaring Fork (culinary).

CARBONDALE, Colorado – A community that has become a popular destination for fine dining is also becoming a training ground for aspiring young chefs, restaurant managers and owners.Through a national program offered by YouthEntity, called ProStart, a group of high school students from Carbondale and Basalt have been learning what it takes to develop a restaurant business plan, and to cook with the best of them.Based in Carbondale’s Bridges Center, YouthEntity offers real-world learning experiences for students in business, finance, technology and other disciplines through a variety of after-school, weekend and summer programs.ProStart was begun locally last fall as a way for students to learn culinary and restaurant management skills, said Kirsten Petre McDaniel, executive director for YouthEntity.Last week, six students in the program competed at the 14th annual Colorado ProStart Invitational and Sysco Denver Hospitality Cup competition.Held at the Johnson and Wales University Culinary School on March 1, teams of four each competed in the separate culinary arts and restaurant management categories.The management team of Cynthia Ayala from Roaring Fork High School, Naomi Peters from Bridges High School, and Shion Reilly and Cristian Mendez from Basalt High School, took first place out of 15 teams.In addition to receiving a combined $188,000 in culinary and hospitality program scholarship offers, the local student contingent will represent Colorado at the ProStart National Invitational next month in Baltimore.In the management contest, teams prepare a restaurant plan from the ground up, including a menu, interior design and layout, marketing plan, budget and overall concept. The students then pitch the concept and are scored by a panel of nine industry professionals who serve as judges.The YouthEntity management team scored 99.9 out of 100, Petre McDaniel said.”The competition involves a lot of different critical-thinking skills, like writing a business plan, creating a display board, and giving a verbal presentation to try to convince the judges to be investors in the new business,” she said. “It’s a way for students to demonstrate how they would approach real-world scenarios.”Peters and Ayala also joined Roaring Fork student Temo Fregoso and Amilcar Henriquez from Basalt in the culinary team competition.In that event, 20 four-person teams were paired up and given one hour to cook a three-course meal on two butane burners. Industry panels then judge the meal for taste, difficulty and appearance.YouthEntity’s culinary team finished second to Battle Mountain High School, which will go on to represent Colorado at nationals in the culinary division along with YouthEntity’s management team.”Our students were thrilled to bring home two trophies and four gold medals,” Petre McDaniel said.Peters, a 17-year-old junior at Bridges, said she has always liked to cook, and enjoys learning about the management side of the restaurant business as well.”We’re given a demographic to work from at the beginning,” Peters explained of the management competition. “Our task was to connect the past to the future.”Their idea was to do an urban renewal project, turning an old firehouse into a restaurant, she said.”Our theme is modern American cuisine, and the design ties together the old and new parts of the firehouse,” Peters said. “We had a lot of help developing the plan from different people in the valley.”In the culinary competition, her team prepared an Asian menu of spring rolls and pork dumplings for an appetizer, a blackened salmon, rice noodle salad and mango papaya slaw entree, and a Thai creme brulee with Cracker Jack dessert.”The culinary competition is fun, because you always learn new things that you never knew before, different tricks and stuff,” Peters said.Peters said she is not sure at this point whether she would like to become a chef or get into the management side, or both. Whatever scholarship offers come her way might help make the decision, she said.YouthEntity’s management team members received a combined total of $188,000 in scholarship offers from seven different culinary and hospitality programs, Petre McDaniel said. They will have the chance to win even more scholarship opportunities at nationals. Colorado ProStart is a high school hospitality education program sponsored by the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Colorado Hotel & Lodging Association. The two-year food service/hospitality management and business entrepreneurship curriculum is offered primarily to high school juniors and seniors. Participating students must meet academic standards, complete a checklist of competencies, and put in at least 400 hours of a mentored internship work experience. Students are then awarded the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement, which signifies they are qualified to enter the industry workforce.Students who achieve the certification also have access to scholarships from leading colleges and universities. Last year, Colorado ProStart graduates received more than $1.5 million to pursue post-secondary education.For more information about YouthEntity, visit And to learn more about the ProStart program, visit

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