National ProStart Invitational winners of 2019 competition awarded in DC

Texas, Florida win big at 2019 NPSI, top five teams recognized at Award Ceremony

As far as National ProStart Invitational winners go, the state of Texas was the top dog this year. Students at its Dr. Gene Burton College and Career Academy in Rockwall and Ben Barber Innovation Academy in Mansfield took home first place trophies in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management competitions, respectively.

The National ProStart Invitational (NPSI), held this year in Washington, DC at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel, is a fierce student competition that is organized by the National Restaurant Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). Florida also posted a strong showing this year, placing in the top five in Culinary and Restaurant Management.

ProStart is a top, classroom-to-work vocational training program under the wing of the NRAEF. NPSI is an event that helps students bond, develop additional connections with industry leaders and develop highly-prized skills for work in foodservice. Eatery Pulse Media was in attendance this year, witnessing the hard work and perseverance by students. The NRAEF and the teachers and mentors who participate in the behind-the-scenes work make ProStart competitions a success.

The NRAEF vocational program’s positive impact on students’ lives cannot be easily measured. Earlier this year, Gifford told us, “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.”

The NRAEF awarded trophies at the NPSI Award Ceremony and Gala. Dawn Sweeney, National Restaurant Association and NRAEF chief executive; Rob Gifford, NRAEF executive vice president; Kristin Bitter, vice president for industry affairs at Coca-Cola; and Lance Trenary, Golden Corral chief executive, helped present these awards. Here are the National ProStart Invitational winners in the categories of Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management:


Culinary Arts: National ProStart winners

  • Dr. Gene Burton College and Career Academy in Rockwall, Texas (first place)
  • Herndon Career Center in Raytown, Missouri (second place)
  • Anderson Career and Technology Center in Williamston, South Carolina (third place)
  • Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne, New Jersey (fourth place)
  • Leto High School in Tampa, Florida (fifth place)

Restaurant Management: National ProStart winners

  • Ben Barber Innovation Academy in Mansfield, Texas (first place)
  • East Ridge High School in Clermont, Florida (second place)
  • Provo High School in Provo, Utah (third place)
  • Wilson Central High School in Lebanon, Tennessee (fourth place)
  • Kalamazoo Resa North West in Kalamazoo, Michigan (fifth place)

[Related article: Texas Restaurant Association names new CEO]

The Texas team that won the Culinary Arts competition (Dr. Gene Burton College and Career Academy) prepared a menu that featured a sesame-crusted ahi tuna with mango, fennel, and wasabi salad appetizer. For the entrée, the team prepared oven-roasted beef tenderloin and pan-seared lobster with crab-stuffed mushrooms and assorted vegetables. To top it off, dessert offered up a glazed white chocolate chai mousse and ginger Swiss meringue with apple cranberry compote and ginger cookie crumble.


The Texas team from Ben Barber Innovation Academy won first place for restaurant management. Their winning restaurant concept was “Mezzo y Medio,” a fusion restaurant concept, bringing a medley of Latin, American, and Italian flavors. This year, the Educators of Excellence received their awards during the competition. The top educators that are recognized nationally were given trophies and cash awards at the ProStart Invitational Awards Ceremony.

[Related article: National ProStart Educators of Excellence awarded]

Mentoring, sponsorship key for building pipeline of restaurant industry talent

ProStart continues to develop students within their own communities and across the country. State programs contribute in a big way to how much influence and career-enhancing benefit the vocational programs have. Participating schools at the local level work hard to develop future restaurant industry leaders with limited resources. Moreover, local ProStart programs welcome restaurant chains and sponsors looking to make a big impact in vocational training.

North Carolina ProStart culinary competition in 2019.

Although the North Carolina student teams did not place in the top five, they worked hard, and much of it was made possible by mentors and sponsors. “You’re building a pipeline of employees for the industry locally,” said Mandy Hines, NCRLA Director of Hospitality Education, at the event. She told us that this needs to be the message from state associations and educators at the local level to potential mentors and sponsors.

ProStart as a resource for top talent conveys a powerful message that can engage restaurant chains at the state level. In N.C., some of the sponsors assisted students getting started with careers. And others helped pay for the trip to NPSI in DC and provided supplies. Additionally, top sponsors provided travel bags for the N.C. teams this year.


Students gain access to industry leaders

Kwame Onwuachi, James Beard Award winner for Rising Star Chef, “Top Chef” alum and owner of Kith and Kin; Andrew Dana, Timber Pizza chief executive; Rose Previte, owner, Maydan & Compass Rose restaurants; 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, were featured this year at Share-a-Coke panels.

They were part of two separate forums that helped expose students to topics of entrepreneurship and foodservice career exploration. Restaurateurs and chefs were joined by Kevin Rittle, vice president of Global Offer Development at Sodexo, and Kristin Bitter, vice president, Industry Affairs for the Coca-Cola Company.

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