Restaurant Industry’s Next-Gen Leaders Vie for Top Honors in DC

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s culinary and restaurant management competition will celebrate some of the nation’s best student chefs and managers, who also happen to be the future leaders of the industry.

Some of the nation’s best culinary talent is set to convene in Washington, DC, for an intense three-day competition to test their mettle, cooking skills, and restaurant management. However, these are not your average cooking contestants.

They are high school students—nearly 400 of them—who are participating in the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s 2022 National ProStart Invitational (NPSI). Students will compete for top culinary and restaurant management honors, in addition to nearly $200,000 in scholarships. The event will be held in person for the first time since 2019.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people to experience what the restaurant industry is all about and learn from some of the very best,” said NRAEF Vice President of Communications and Events Gordon Lambourne.

ProStart, a two-year technical education program, has grown since its inception in 1997 and can be found in 1,750 high schools and career and technical institutions nationwide. There are 145,000 students enrolled in the program from all 50 states.

“It’s a great education about what it takes to go out and build a career regardless of whether it’s in the restaurant, food service, or hospitality industry,” Lambourne said.

In 2020, the program required some adjustments because of the pandemic. Students participated in virtual learning and did some of their cooking from home. However, even though the competition could not be held in person, ProStart still celebrated the students. The group hosted a virtual celebration and NRAEF redirected over $200,000 of scholarship money earmarked for that year’s event to all students who would have competed for their states.

The competition was canceled again in 2021, so the group held another virtual celebration and industry celebrities who are big supporters of the program—including Guy Fieri, Carla Hall, and Rachel Ray—sent videotaped encouragement. “The big win was the fact that the ProStart program was able to adapt and move forward during those tough times,” Lambourne said.

This year’s in-person event will follow all local safety regulations and all attendees must comply with the National Restaurant Association’s in-person event policy, which requires proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of the start of the event.

The students coming to DC to compete are the top teams from every state. “Their skill level is as high as any four- or five-star restaurant chef here in DC,” Lambourne said. The competition gives the students a chance to shine—finally in person after three years—and it’s also beneficial for the industry.

“Any organization or association needs to have an eye on the long term with the goal of helping the industry grow and be a place that is welcoming and inclusive for anyone who wants to pursue their dream,” Lambourne said.

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Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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