Let’s raise our glasses of Shirley Temples and give a huge round of applause for Team NJ for showing the nation what true NJ grit is. The National ProStart Invitational in Washington D.C. took place during the weekend of May 7th and 8th. Fellow NJ competitors brought passion, drive, and intensity to the competition. With honor, we would like to congratulate Passaic County Technical Institute’s Culinary Team (PCTI) who placed 6th in the nation and Mercer County Technical School’s Management Team (MCTS) who placed 26th in the competition consisting of ProStart Teams from all across the nation.
Soignee. /Swan Ya/ (adj)- dressed very elegantly, well groomed.
This was the name of MCTS’ upbeat, and sleek French restaurant. While dining here you are met with an exceptional menu while your eyes gaze upon an ocean view. Elegance and class are perfectly captured through a 1920s ambience and a unique second-level dining space with retractable roof panels allowing you to soak up every moment of your beach vacation. The judges were delighted by the all inclusive business model and a thorough business plan. With careful preparation of the model and menu, MCTS painted the picture of their vision from top to bottom. The professionalism and poised mannerisms of the team wowed the judges from the start of their presentation to the end of their feedback session.
PCTI brought true competition as they were faced with the challenging task of creating an appetizer, entree, and dessert all within an hour. If that isn’t challenging enough, they also were not allowed to use electricity. Sticky Pork Belly was served as their appetizer, followed by Pan Seared Duck Breast as an entree. Leaving the judges with a little something sweet, the team made a White Chocolate Blueberry Mousse with Lemon Citrus Curd that left the judges asking for more. Almost too beautiful to eat, this dessert had everyone snapping photos because we all know the phone eats first.
Prior to the National ProStart Invitational the NJRHA had the opportunity to meet with the teams. Getting to know the teams was an unforgettable experience as each member embodied a unique and inspiring persona. Considering all the details that go into the competition, we desired to know what the weeks prior to the competition were filled with.
“For the state competition we were coming in three times a week to practice before school. To prepare for nationals, we upped it to four times a week. We practiced from 6AM to 8AM and then headed to classes,” Dava Wozniak of PCTI told us.
On being team captain and preparing, Josh Chacon said, “You have to understand coming to school at 6AM can be difficult, but we come in and work hard together. We have a competition to prepare for, but these are some of my closest friends. We treat each other like siblings and hang out outside of practice. We’re a great team.”
The young women of MCTS broke through the gender barriers and claimed their righteous space in the competition. Their voices boomed in the management competition room. It was clear we were in the presence of #girlboss energy.
Francia Auguste of MCTS gave us insight into their preparations, “Chef Phillipson had us going into EVERY class presenting our business plan to strangers- she even took us to the automobile shop class on campus and had us present with all the background noise! That boosted our team's confidence.”
Salma Garcia of PCTI looked back on her childhood when asked what inspired her to pursue this industry, “I have been cooking from a young age, watching my grandma. I was always in the kitchen with my family.”
Isabella Macaluso told us, “My dad’s family used to own a wedding venue in New Jersey and I found my passion from there at a young age.”
Josh Chacon talked about finding himself as a person through culinary and always loved cooking and baking shows, leading him to create his own recipes. “They were not too good…actually really bad…but I saw improvement in my ability. I accomplished what I didn’t think I could do. I know I can do anything even if someone tells me I can’t.”
When it comes to following your dreams, the support you receive from those around you is crucial. “I’m more excited than nervous…I’m going to D.C. with my girls! I appreciate these girls so much, even when I mess up everyone reassures me I’ll do great.” Kayla Corrigan of MCTS told us.
“The best part is letting our creativity get wild and have fun inventing a restaurant. Of course we worry about the what ifs, but we know we have it down.” Yailene Caraballo spoke when asked about her favorite parts of the competition.
On how the ProStart Invitational inspired futures, freshman Jade Irizarry has big dreams, “I know I want to be my own boss- I don’t want to be bossed around at a job. I want to open up my own restaurant one day!”
Both teams expressed gratitude for their instructors. PCTI was quick to shout out Chef Ossi. “Chef Ossi is an amazing educator- he’s here everyday for us on a personal level and for the competition no matter what.” Alexa Urteaga said pointing at the PCTI Instructor.
“Chef Phillipson is the BEST instructor I’ve ever had. Weekly meetings are always fun. She was the first person I hugged when we heard we won states,” said Francia Auguste.
There is no doubt that Team NJ made their families, instructors, NJRHA, and the industry proud at the 2022 National ProStart Invitational. What we hope most after hearing the stories of the competitors and their hard work is that they are proud of themselves.
Aryanna Mason of MCTS expressed, “This competition helps our confidence and we get to take this experience with us for the rest of our lives, win or lose.”