A seven-person student team from Hampton-Dumont High School recently traveled to Washington, D.C., ready for battle. Armed with their cultivated skills, fresh ideas and a competitive team spirit, these students represented Iowa at the 2022 National ProStart Invitational and came home with outstanding results.
Hampton-Dumont competed in both the culinary skills and restaurant management competitions offered at the National ProStart Invitational, and out of approximately 40 teams in each competition, they placed in the upper-half of schools for both contests. The culinary team placed ninth while the restaurant management team finished in 16th place overall.
“This is the best Iowa has ever done nationally in the culinary competition,” said May Schaben, executive director for the Iowa Restaurant Association Education Foundation. “Hampton-Dumont also did very well in the restaurant management competition. It shows how far Iowa has advanced.”
Held May 6-8, this year’s National ProStart Invitational welcomed student teams from across the country to contend in the two competitions, which allowed students to apply their learned skills in a hands-on environment and gain real-world feedback from restaurant industry professionals.
“The ProStart competition is totally engaging for students,” said Jane Hoegh, family and consumer science (FCS) educator at Hampton-Dumont High School. “We can learn and discuss things in the classroom, but when the students can perform in a competition like this, those soft skills like organization, teamwork and communication really come alive.”
As Iowa’s state ProStart champions in both competitions, Hampton-Dumont was well-prepared for the national contest. Five members of the team participated in the culinary challenge where they had to prepare a three-course gourmet meal in under 60 minutes. Their menu included an appetizer of five-cheese ravioli in a creamy vodka sauce served with an arugula salad, a main course of an Italian herb beef tenderloin roulade with broccolini, pan-seared lemon potatoes, fried parsnips in a red wine sauce and focaccia bread and a dessert of tiramisu with a chocolate dome.
“We did a run-through a couple times per week using the 60-minute timeframe to perfect everything,” said senior Payton McNealy, 18. “We’ve learned a lot of management, food handling and time management skills through this.”
Similarly, the three members who focused on the restaurant management challenge sharpened and refined their project for the national competition. They were required to pitch a full restaurant concept that included a menu and business plan, costing, layout and staffing, marketing ideas and critical thinking skills to industry professionals. The Hampton-Dumont team pitched their idea of Wild Fire Waffles, a food trailer that sells Liege waffles with different toppings and coffees, and noted the high pressure of this competition.
“There were five panels of judges looking at everything from your concept to marketing to safety,” said junior Tiffany Howrey, 17. “I participated in both the culinary and management competitions, and the management side was definitely more stressful for me. You had to think on your feet. You didn’t know what they were going to ask you.”
The ProStart program and its competitions at the state and national levels help prepare students for their next steps after high school, no matter if they pursue a career in the restaurant industry or another field. Professional skills like communication, timeliness, organization, problem solving and critical thinking that students develop through programs like ProStart and other hands-on experiences can all be applied to their future endeavors.
“The hospitality industry provides one in three people with their first job,” Schaben said. “By that figure, we know this industry is training America’s workforce, not just our own. The skills a student learns in an FCS classroom are transferable, career-ready skill sets that can help prepare them for college or enter the workforce.”
For the seven members from Hampton-Dumont, a few are interested in the restaurant industry while the rest are looking to explore other areas like health science, music or business, but all feel they have learned useful professional skills.
“I definitely strengthened my problem-solving skills,” said junior Will Sackville, 17. “We would run into a lot of different things and had to figure out how to perfect what we were doing. I also feel like my people skills got better through fundraising events and competitions.”
For many members of this year’s team, their trip to Washington, D.C., was their first experience in the nation’s capital. However, Hampton-Dumont has been to the National ProStart Invitational before, competing in the 2019 culinary challenge. To the school’s achievements in the competitions – both previously and in the present – Hoegh shares their secret to success.
“I have amazing students,” she said. “I’m very competitive and try to push them to continually get better. They are very engaged, eager to learn and were in it to win it.”