Thursday, March 1, 2012


We have officially finished another year with our "Prostart" program at good old Seaside High School. The program is the baby of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the National Restuarant Association, and it gives a syllabus, and then the chance to compeat for students that are interested in the hospitaltiy business. We had a new instructor this year and were very fortunate that we were able to have the class this year as their was little to no funding available as well as a lack of a Qualified instructor when we discussed it late last summer. The local community college was able to step in and offer the class at the high school, and the school was able to free up the money ($300) per student in scholarship form to keep in under their roof. The instructor was woman who actually lives in Portland but would make the trip down three days a week to instruct this cornecopia of different students. The 5 that qualified to make the team were a great bunch of kids, and we really had fun with them. For the first year ever we had a total of 4 hispanics on the team, two of which spoke little to no english which in turn tested my fluency skills. Almost all of my spanish speaking ability is kitchen related, so in comparison to what these kids hear adults speaking it is a bit vague, slang, and crude, but we made it work. Will and I take on the mentoring duties and he takes the lead on the development and paperwork side of it. One of us goes to the high school every school day starting in early January through the end of February. PAcking with us from the restaurant the ingredients we need to practice that day as the school has no sort of viable budget for the program food stuff. The rest of the students not on the team are taking an advanced food class and my students get a bit of a pass on the pratical side of that class to be able to compeat on the team. The goal is to write a 3 course menu that will be cooked and plated by 4 of them (1 is an alternate) in one hour on nothing more then two protable butane burners, without the use of any sort of electronic gadgets. There is also testing on knife skills and the students ability to break down a whole chicken into it's various pieces. In total we estimate for budgeting purposes that the program costs the restuarant about 7k in our time away from the kitchen, travel, ingredients, and various odds and ends that we need to supply the team with. Aside from monetary costs it is a huge time commitment for me. Leaving for three hours to drive 13 miles up the road to the school and then go over these things over and over with these students and then go back to the restaurant and find myself 3 hours behind on the work I need to get done before I call it a day is tough. Gettin the kids to understand that is even harder. The kids were great and part of our effort here is potentially justified by the fact that we could pick up a few great employees into the company, and I think we have found a few in particular who are real gems and we would be honored to have them with us even for a summer or two.

Every year we go rounds about the menu in an attempt to balance the techniqes we beleive these kids need to walk away knowing, with the fact that our goal is to create a "fine dining" type of meal. Again access to heat is extremely limited so we always struggle to be original with dessert, and we refuse to have these students execute something that is just for show. Spinning sugar is a cool technique, but it is a technique that I have only done once ( at culinary school) and will never be put on a plate in any restaurant that I am in. It just doesnt have a long term purpose in the kitchen, so I am not going to spend months teaching the students how to do it correctly, when the chances are so high they will never need to do it again. Instead we really try to instal flexible techniqes that make the students better cooks.

After four years of mentoring this team we have really been pushing for a podium finish. The winner is sent on an all expense paid trip to compete at the Washington DC nation wide competition. I personally have a hard time with this huge investment without a bar to measure we are getting closer. Our closest finish thus far has been 7th place (based on a statewide competition that doesnt account for school size it isnt horrible by any means) but we are more then capable of doing this and it is a struggle for us every year. That is hugely frustrating for me. This year rather then closed door, judging took place in front of the team, and Will, as well as their instructor (someone has to run the restaurant). That was a huge blessing as we were able to hear first hand their issues. As usual we were hit pretty hard on the fact that the menu wasnt hard enough to execute, but the techniqes used were perfectly executed. We also scored in the top few for knife cuts and the poultry test. The overall scores including the execution of the dishes, the costing and recipes of the dishes, the knife skills, the sanitation, the poulty, communication are all tallied, and at the awards ceremony we were not in the top five in the state, and await our final standings as the top five are all that are announced on the day of the competition. We hope to be in the same seat next year with some return students (we havent had that yet) as well as an instructor that knows a bit more about the program. My hope is always that the students will really take something away from this. In an odd turn of events they have been asked to cook this menu for a thank you dinner for some work that I was invovled in for the local communtiy food bank so they will cook the dinner for both Will (my guest) and I, as well as about seven of the other top chefs in our community. I am excited to be on the other side of that. Thanks for reading. Update- scoring was released yesterday and we took a solid 6th place overall finish. It is really good progress for the program and we are pretty happy about that finish.

The menu-

1st- Tomato bisque soup- grilled cheese sandwich
2nd- Herb beggars purse with warm crab filling, cous cous, crab leg garnish, and vegetables
3rd- Banana Coconut frittter with brown sugar caramel and ziploc bag ice cream

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