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Students compete with dozens of other schools from around the state at the Oregon Convention Center

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Members of the Newberg High School culinary team prepare a meal during the ProStart Invitational Culinary Competition in early March at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Hundreds of aspiring chefs and restaurateurs — and other kids with a passion for cooking — piled into the Oregon Convention Center earlier this month for the ProStart Invitational Culinary Competition. Students from Newberg High School were there; frantically preparing a gourmet meal while their teammates presented a business plan.

The competition, sponsored nationally by the National Restaurant Association and locally by the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, brings in some 40 schools from around the state to compete in the kitchen and in the boardroom. Five NHS students competed on the culinary team, while two competed on the management team.

Culinary students were given an hour to prepare a three-course meal with a starter, main course and dessert. They had two butane burners and no running water. NHS instructor Jane Eilert said the competition is a difficult task even for the most experienced cooks in the bunch.SUBMITTED PHOTO - The team prepared a three-course meal with a starter, main course and dessert.

"It's nice, but it's a challenge because you have to take everything and make everything essentially from scratch," Eilert said. "It's a very different environment than your typical kitchen."

Students work through the heat, pressure and pace of a typical cooking competition with an atypical setting. Minimal resources require maximum resourcefulness and the NHS team embraced that challenge, according to captain Rohan Hansen – a senior.

"It's an adaptive challenge and I think that's the fun part about it," he said. "It's not teaching you how to work in a kitchen that you would typically be working in. It teaches you how to cook in an adaptable and intelligent way."

The other competition at ProStart tasked a pair of Newberg students with designing a startup business and presenting their plan to judges from the hospitality and tourism management industry. Newberg didn't place in the culinary or management competitions, but the experience gained was valuable, Eilert said.

A handful of students over the years have pursued culinary careers as a result of the club and the excitement of state competition. Most of the kids from Newberg, however, are in it for the team building and skill development.

Eilert noted that four or five schools are consistently among the winners and placers at state, and the rest are happy to compete and make memories with their individual teams. More than half of Oregon's residents say they got their first job in the restaurant industry, she said, so this competition and the yearlong club typically prove valuable in the long run.

Hansen agrees. He said many students get an insight into a career path through the competition, even if they don't have one mapped out quite yet.

"It's like any sport – you're not necessarily intending to be a professional in that sport," he said. "You're intending to gain personal growth and skills, investing your time in a team that you can build camaraderie with. The organizations are really investing in a new generation of culinary people. They're challenging them and presenting them with an experience that will give them the tools to be successful."

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