OCEAN — Whisks and pans in hand, three Croatan High School students were honing their cooking skills Thursday in preparation for a major state culinary competition at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

The students, Jacob Jones, Josh Jachimiak and Damien Teran, are practicing for the 2019 ProStart Invitational, which will take place Thursday-Saturday, March 7-9 at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. The competition is March 8, with additional activities planned during the weekend of culinary fun.

If they win the state competition, they will go on to nationals, which will be Wednesday- Friday, May 8-10 in Washington, D.C. State winners also receive scholarship prizes.

The students said Thursday they’re excited about competing against other top ProStart culinary students across the state, and they’ve been practicing two nights a week with professional Chef Ryan Jankowski at Caribsea in Emerald Isle. They’re also preparing during class time at the school’s family and consumer science kitchen.

Josh, a sophomore who has an interest in the culinary field, said, “It’s going to give me the experience I need of cooking under pressure.”

The competition is intense, and teams must prepare three courses of fine dining cuisine in less than 60 minutes. Under the guidance of Chef Jankowski, the students have decided to prepare a Peruvian ceviche appetizer, with the main entrée a chicken sope. The dessert is a deconstructed banana pudding.

Students will not only be judged on the quality of the food, but the use of proper techniques and food safety procedures. In addition, students must create detailed recipe booklets and price out their meal. They’re also interviewed by a team of judges.

Students even went to a boot camp in November at Johnson and Wales for preliminary training.

Croatan family and consumer science teacher Robyn Stafford said she was proud of the students for not only competing in the contest, but practicing the many hours.

“They have been working so hard in preparation for this,” Ms. Stafford said.

She added that she’s grateful for the support of Chef Jankowski and the Caribsea staff.

“This is such a great collaboration between the industry and a ProStart team,” Ms. Stafford said. “The restaurant has even been providing most of the food for the practices.”

Chef Jankowski said Friday during a telephone interview that he’s happy to work with the students and was impressed with their dedication.

“It’s such a great opportunity for the kids and the industry as a whole,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of working with the kids. It also helps us. They’re learning a lot and we get to rethink our own processes. We learn, too.”

Chef Jankowski further said he’s been so impressed with the ProStart program and the students that “we sent all three of them home with applications. The summer season is coming, and I let them know they’d have their foot in the door.”

ProStart, created by the National Restaurant Association, is a nationwide, two-year high school program that teaches industry standard culinary and hospitality management skills. Students who complete the ProStart requirements are awarded an industry-recognized certificate, the Prostart National Certificate of Achievement.

Students who receive the certificate are eligible for scholarship opportunities and course credits at some of the country’s leading hospitality and culinary arts colleges and universities, according to Ms. Stafford.

In Carteret County, Ms. Stafford said high schools team up with Carteret Community College to offer the ProStart curriculum. ProStart I is offered at the high schools, with the the more advanced ProStart II at the community college under the state’s dual enrollment program that allows students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously.

Students said they’ve enjoyed improving their culinary skills, especially getting to work the Chef Jankowski and his staff at Caribsea.

“I’ve wanted to cook since I was 7,” Josh said. “This is a great opportunity and I’ve already improved my understanding of the layout of kitchens.”

Jacob, a junior who also has an interest in the culinary field, agreed.

“This has been such a fun learning experience,” he said. “They have been very motivating and have helped us a lot in the kitchen.”

Damien, a senior who said he wants to use his culinary skills as a back-up profession to robotics engineering, said, “They have had a lot of patience with us while we’re learning and I appreciate that. I know this is worth it because if you have good culinary skills you can get a job just about anywhere.”

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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