The Future Looks Bright at the Minnesota ProStart Invitational

It’s not clear who was more excited to show up for the 2022 Minnesota ProStart Invitational on March 8 — students, educators, industry professionals, families or Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation and Association staff. It felt so good to be back at the Minnesota ProStart Invitational after COVID forced a cancellation in 2020 and a smaller event in 2021.

This year’s competition was hosted by Morrissey Hospitality at the RiverCentre in Saint Paul and welcomed 12 teams — 9 in culinary and 3 in management.

Management teams squared off first, presenting their foodservice business proposal to teams of rotating judges. Teams were evaluated on concept, menu, costs, operations, marketing and critical thinking skills. The judges, industry professionals with deep experience in operations and/or ownership. After a brief presentation on the area of focus, the students are asked questions to add to the judges understanding of their work. After scoring, the judges meet with each team to provide feedback on their concept and presentation. The team with the highest scores overall is awarded 1st place and given the opportunity to represent Minnesota at Nationals. They present the same concept.

Preparations for the March competition started back in November, when students began to create their concept. Teams are given guidelines on the type of market (population size, community amenities) and the type of business (brick and mortar, food truck, etc.), and they research trends to come up with their final idea. From there, they create their proposal and their pitch presentation.

This year’s winning concept was an Asian-inspired big bowl food truck called Bát Đại from the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School Management team, winners of the last competition in 2021. The team, pictured left, includes (l to r) Noah Rosenberger, Chelsey Vogel, Jaidiv Lachmansingh and Kavan Gullette, with Mary Levinski. Levinski, the team’s educator coach, credits the strong bond between her teammates for their hard work and success. “They all get along and are friends in and out of school,” Levinski said. “They just know each other so well that they can play off each other for a dynamic presentation.”

And, they had a lot of practice. Levinsky reports that the students met every Monday on the project and and ran through their pitch presentation 40 times in preparation for the competition. Their effort was clear to the judges.

While the Management competition was underway, Culinary teams got busy collecting provisions and setting up their workspace to prepare a plated meal and dessert they’ve been working to perfect for months. Gas burners, plastic bins, bus tubs and sanitation buckets were strategically placed, followed by cutting board, bowls, pans, knives, measuring cups and mixing utensils. This timed competition, where students are not allowed to interact with anyone outside their team, except judges, picked up pace until it culminated in plating. One for tasting (by the judges) and one for viewing (by the larger audience).

This year’s top award went to the Culinary team from Elk River High School, under the direction of coach Monique Sabby. Student team members included (l to r) Lukas Larson, Grant Stoltman, Lainie Carlson, and Natalie Thompson, with Kaelyn Sacre as alternate. The team also won the Sanitation Award and Natalie Thompson took home the Top Knife Skills Award.

The team worked with Chef-Mentor Seth Bixby Daugherty to shape their menu, research recipes and methods. Then, they practiced, practiced, practiced. They started with brainstorming in November, shaped their plan in December and hit it hard after winter break, “practicing countless times until it became a dance between all of the members,” reports Coach Sabby. She calls this year’s winning team “a very intelligent group that sets goals and works hard to achieve them.” It’s clear they dance well together!

Sabby, who’s coached the Elk River High School team since 2011, offers the program because she believes “ProStart truly is a professional start for these students,” and that she continues to do so “to give the kids an experience that will last them a lifetime.” Her former students report that ProStart was their best high school experience.

Awards were also given for menu design, creative plating, team spirt, team work. You can see all the winners on the Minnesota ProStart Invitational web page.

Both teams will be traveling to Washington D.C. on May 6-8, 2022 to represent Minnesota at the National ProStart Invitational. If you’d like to help support their participation, you can make a donation to help defray expenses by clicking here.

Better yet, plan on attending the Stars of the Future event at Bunker Hills Event Center on Sunday, April 24. There you’ll see students and chefs in action, creating small plates for you to enjoy. You can bid on terrific hospitality packages and all proceeds will go to support scholarships and competition-related expenses. Learn more.

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