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High school students cook up 5-star meals at 2024 Montana ProStart invitational

“It's pretty amazing someone that just got their drivers license is serving up food like that”
ProStart final Meal
ProStart Team Cooking
Posted at 3:13 PM, Mar 18, 2024

BOZEMAN — Caeser salad, blackened shrimp, steak with root vegetables, and tanghulu—that's what the Laurel High School team of culinary students cooked up for the ProStart culinary arts competition at Montana State University.

“We're cooking a three-course meal in an hour. And we don't have any electricity. So we only have camping stoves, water, and ice,” says Raylea Brown, a Junior at Laurel High School competing in the Montana ProStart competition.

The three-course meal is only the first challenge these competitors face. The 2024 Montana ProStart Invitational was held Thursday in Hannon Hall on the MSU campus. The Gallatin College Culinary Arts Program hosted eight high schools from across the state to show off their skills in various culinary and restaurateur challenges.

But what is ProStart and how does this program produce such talented chefs?

“ProStart is a two-year curriculum based in culinary arts and culinary management to give students some industry experience while they're still in high school,” said Tracey Eatherton, the state director of Montana FCCLA and ProStart.

Being a part of the ProStart curriculum means these high-schoolers are cooking at the same level as some five-star restaurant chefs. But this competition is not only judged on cooking skills.

“The judging actually involves professionals from the field, and they're in different areas. We have some looking at teamwork, some looking at safety and sanitation, there's some over there looking at plating,” says Tracey.

The chefs also created a business pitch for a restaurant, which included everything from the menu to pricing to how they will market and operate the business.

“Everybody knows restaurant work can be hard. Culinary work can be hard; there's a lot more avenues for people to find their niche in culinary. But it's still a lot of hours, so these kids are making a conscious decision to want to be chefs,” Mike Dean, director of the culinary arts program for Gallatin College told me.

He expressed how excited he is by what these high-schoolers can do in the kitchen.

“It's the next generation. It absolutely is,” said Dean.

And although Belgrade High came out on top and will be heading to the ProStart nationals in Baltimore, every student got the chance to show off their passion for being a Chef.

“It kinda runs in the family. My grandma cooks on both sides of the family. So it was an interest of mine,” said Hannah Lackman, a senior from the Laurel High team.