NRAEF readies 2019 ProStart Invitational in DC

ProStart connects classroom with industry-led education, skills

ProStart, one of the leading educational programs for high school students in restaurant management and the culinary arts, is preparing for one of its signature events in Washington, DC May 8-10. The annual National ProStart Invitational (NPSI), managed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), spotlights the best of the best across more than 1,900 schools, across all 50 states, the Territory of Guam and Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Europe, the Pacific and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, ProStart develops skills that are essential for success in the restaurant industry and combines classroom and on-the-job training. If there’s a program that comes together seamlessly and represents the future of the restaurant industry, it’s definitely ProStart. Students at the state level compete for the opportunity to be invited to NPSI. Also, there are two distinct teams: culinary and restaurant management.

In the culinary competition, students prepare a three-course meal and then are judged on the final product. And it’s rigorous, as they’re judged on outcomes from the time the product is checked-in, to the mise en place, to the hour of station clean-up.

Management students develop a new restaurant concept in a “simulated business exposition.” Whether they are chefs, restaurateurs or industry allies, judges who are stars within their own local industries score each team. State ProStart programs select these judges based on specific skill sets and expertise, and they are a critical part of the competition. Teachers are also recognized through the ProStart Educators of Excellence Awards. In this interview with Rob Gifford, NRAEF executive vice president, Restaurant C-Suite Magazine dives deeper into the ProStart program.


RCS: What’s new this year? And what can the students and sponsors expect as highlights?

RG: After several years of being hosted in cities around the country, NPSI is establishing Washington, DC as its new home. The students have the opportunity to show off their skills and compete for scholarships in front of DC-based business leaders, government officials, national industry influencers and the national media. The event will showcase the importance of career and technical education programs like ProStart that offer opportunities to pursue a college degree and additional education in restaurants, culinary arts and hospitality or immediately enter the workforce after graduating from high school.

For the first time, we are also bringing our ProStart Educators of Excellence Awards to NPSI to combine the celebration of our top ProStart competitors with the recognition of our ProStart educators from across the country who have done an outstanding job preparing their students for a successful future in our industry.


RCS: Please review how these state and national competitions provide opportunities for future entrepreneurs and culinary artists.

Rob Gifford is executive vice president of NRAEF, which leads ProStart.
Rob Gifford is executive vice president of NRAEF, which leads ProStart. Photo by NRAEF.

RG: ProStart unites the classroom and the industry to develop the next generation of restaurant and foodservice leaders. In addition to bragging rights, the winning state and national teams are awarded scholarships to pursue post-secondary education. At last year’s NPSI, we awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships.

Students attending NPSI also have the chance to interact with industry leaders at our annual business and education expo and during our “Share-a-Coke” sessions where they can ask questions and learn from top industry professionals. This year, Kwame Onwuachi, a local DC Chef, Top Chef Alum and Owner of Kith and Kin; Andrew Dana, CEO, Timber Pizza; Ayesha Abuelhiga, CEO, Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.; and Chef Jerome Grant, Executive Chef at the National Museum of African American History and Sous Chef at the National Museum of the American Indian will be our featured Share-a-Coke panelists. These exclusive opportunities provide students insights into what it takes to launch a successful career, run a restaurant or start your own business.

RCS: How can industry veterans get involved in volunteering or sponsorship (in the program on an ongoing basis)?

RG: We have tremendous support across the industry for NPSI and the ProStart program and continue to see both large and small businesses and organizations seek out new and innovative ways to get involved.


Each year, we see more and more of the restaurant and foodservice community look for ways to support NPSI—they volunteer as judges, participate in the career expo, create special experiences for the students, become ProStart mentors and come simply to cheer on these exceptional students. We welcome the involvement and interest from any organization that aligns with our mission to attract, empower and advance the future of the restaurant industry. NPSI is three days of high-energy and emotion and we love making each and every team, student and teacher feel special. It is the NRAEF’s best event of the year.

Related video: ProStart Invitational winners during the 2018 competition. Video by NRAEF.

Click here to learn more about the 2019 National ProStart Invitational:

Rob Gifford Bio

Rob Gifford is Executive Vice President of the NRAEF. As the philanthropic foundation of the National Restaurant Association, the NRAEF is dedicated to enhancing the industry’s training and education, career opportunity and community engagement efforts. The Foundation and its portfolio of programs work to attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice industry workforce.

Under Gifford’s leadership, the Foundation has expanded its portfolio of programs to better serve the nation’s restaurant workforce and support career opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, and its work has won accolades including a Power of “A” Gold Award from the American Society of Association Executives for its mission to “Create a Competitive Workforce.” To learn more about the work of the Foundation, visit

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