Area students advance to National ProStart finals |

Area students advance to National ProStart finals

Students in Carbondale-based YouthEntity are having a great spring, successfully defending their 2017 state titles of first in Culinary Arts and second in the Restaurant Management competition at the Colorado ProStart Invitational held at Johnson & Wales University in Denver recently.

The team also took home the Sysco Hospitality Cup, a traveling trophy for the team with the highest combined score.

“If someone had told me years ago that YouthEntity would have one of the leading restaurant management and culinary arts programs in the country for high school students, I would have said they were out of their mind. It wasn’t even on my radar,” said YouthEntity founder and Executive Director Kirsten Petre McDaniel.

“But what started as a small program because of a YouthEntity survey conducted at Roaring Fork High School years ago has become a passion,” she said in a news release.

YouthEntity’s four-person culinary team of Stacy Marquez (Roaring Fork High School), Latesha Putnam (Roaring Fork), Kylie Orf (Roaring Fork) and Daniel Yoshimura (Glenwood Springs High) cooked three dishes for the judges in just 60 minutes with no electricity and only two burners: seared scallops with roasted sweet corn, jalapeno, bacon, braised veal cheeks, artichokes, king trumpets and spring peas, blood orange glazed dark chocolate buche.

Getting ready to compete is no small task.

“The entire process is inspiring to me,” said chef and team coach Matt Maier. “Taking high schoolers and working with them to better understand ingredients and techniques, to have them dedicate themselves to the process, to have them pour their very essences into striving towards the goal of perfection, and to see them rise from failure after failure to victory and ultimately to the national stage is truly one of the most rewarding things I know.”

Henry Butchart (Basalt High School), Charlie Candela (Roaring Fork) and Elijah Wood (Roaring Fork) comprised the management team and presented their restaurant concept “Ambrosia Greek Tavern” to judges. The concept is a hyper-local Greek restaurant inspired by their love of Greek mythology. Furthermore, the students submitted a written business plan and were tested on their critical thinking skills by answering “what if” disaster scenarios on their feet in front of judges.

“The thing I love most about the management competition is that students are learning the skills necessary to run any business and how to work as a team,” Petre McDaniel said. “Most workplaces are highly cross-functional and the better you can function well as a team member, the more valuable you’ll be to an organization. Teamwork is a key component to succeeding in ProStart.”

Team members each earned $50,000 in scholarship opportunities for the culinary competition and $25,000 for restaurant management from Johnson & Wales University, Culinary Institute of Virginia, The Art Institutes, New England Culinary Institute and Nichols State University.

YouthEntity’s Culinary Arts team will represent Colorado at the National Invitational in Providence, R.I., on April 27-29.

Just getting to nationals is an honor. Nearly 140,000 students participate in ProStart nationally but just 400, or 0.3 percent, get to represent their state in the culinary arts or management competitions.

ProStart isn’t just about cooking, developing a restaurant concept, financial knowledge or winning, adds Maier.

“YouthEntity is about personal growth,” he said. “Students are exposed to essential skills for success such as working in a team dynamic, deadlines, pressure and how to learn and grow from mistakes.

“I tell my students all the time that what they’ve learned through ProStart is preparing them to be more successful anywhere, not just in the restaurant and hospitality industry.”

ProStart is a national high school hospitality program that incorporates business management, entrepreneurship and culinary arts into one cohesive program. Petre McDaniel brought the program to Roaring Fork School district through YouthEntity and serves as the business coach. Maier, the chef/owner of, coaches the culinary arts competition team.

YouthEntity’s students have competed at a national level four out of the last five years. ProStart at YouthEntity is funded entirely by donations.

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