BY KARISSA MILLER
Area high school students got a firsthand look at what it takes to make it in the food industry while simultaneously receiving helpful tips from local professional chefs and culinary experts this week.
In preparation for the high school statewide competition in March, the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) hosted a ProStart bootcamp on Tuesday in partnership with Career Academy and Technical School in Troutman.
Culinary students and their instructors were from Iredell-Statesville Schools, Ashe County, Asheville, South Mecklenburg, East Mecklenburg and Wakefield High Schools.
“The main goal is for students to walk away confident in their craft. We want them to be prepared and hone in on their skills for the 2024 competition,” explained Katie Parker, NCRLA’s foundation coordinator.
During the boot camp, students worked alongside industry professionals as they practiced preparing foods, chopping vegetables and doing other hands-on activities in the kitchen. They also attended breakout sessions that covered topics such as restaurant concept and design and marketing.
CATS Principal Larry Rogers welcomed the participants. He enjoyed seeing the students in their chef uniforms.
“You all look like professional chefs. And at some point, you will be professional chefs,” he said.
Rogers said that he was excited to see his students engaged and meeting other students with similar interests.
CATS culinary students Clayton Eggers and Samiya Davis-Browning are both interested in pursuing a career as an executive chef and pastry chef, respectively.
Eggers said that he enjoyed networking with other professional chefs, but his teacher, Chef Nate Turner, remains his true inspiration.
“He’s so down to earth. He cares about our future and wants us to be successful in the industry. I’ve learned so much from him,” Eggers said.
Chef Turner, who stayed busy helping guests throughout the day, would periodically check in with his students and watched them interact with other chefs.
“I’m proud of my students’ devotion and the amount of time they put into their training, along with extracurricular activities they do,” he said.
Next year, CATS will expand their culinary classes to include hospitality and tourism due to the growth and interest in the program.
Executive Chef Michael Beers was among the volunteers at the event. He talked to students about dessert presentation and covered other topics in the afternoon.
While answering the students’ questions, he emphasized the importance of working as a team and communicating with one another effectively in the kitchen.
Beers, who works as the executive chef and food and beverage director at Rocky River Country Club in Davidson, said he fell into the food industry by accident and worked his way up after starting as a dishwasher.
He said he enjoys opportunities to give back to the community, which he does by volunteering at NCRLA events. He has served as a judge for competition for more than a decade.
“The food industry can be a tough industry. It’s not just standing behind a stove for 50 hours a week. There’s a lot more to it. It’s great to see students find their niche,” Beers said.
Event sponsors included: Golden Corral, Salsarita’s Mexican Grill, Bojangles and NCRLA foundation and CATS.
Food and Industry experts included:
• Michael Beers, Rocky River Country Club;
• Trenton Shank, Plum Durham;
• Amy Felder, Johnson & Wales University;
• Manuel Gomez, Golden Corral;
• Allison Soderberg, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority; and
• Frances Burnett, Johnson & Wales University.
ProStart is a nationwide, two-year program that helps high school students develop into tomorrow’s industry leaders. ProStart’s Certificate of Achievement is awarded to students who complete both levels of the program and at least 400 hours of work experience, and reward them with credit toward their degree programs.