Clumsy Chefs heading to nationals in May
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A movie-themed restaurant for family dining was the winning idea for a group of aspiring culinary professionals at Elgin High School who took home first place Feb. 8 in the Illinois ProStart Competition.
The school’s Clumsy Chefs restaurant management team put together the winning restaurant concept. It’s the second year in a row the team won first place competing against 14 other schools at the state competition.
“It was very exciting ... you get really nervous sometimes just having to do public speaking,” said senior team member Colin Flanagan, 18, who was on last year’s winning team.
The state competition is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and held at Kendall College in Chicago.
Flanagan and teammates Yahaira Bonilla, Luis Maldonado and Eduardo Rios have a chance to represent their school and the state in the National Restaurant Association ProStart Competition in May in Minnesota.
The Clumsy Chefs classroom is part of Elgin High’s culinary arts program — the only one of its kind in Elgin Area School District U-46. Students participate in the program their freshman through senior year. Juniors and seniors run a restaurant at the school preparing weekly menu items, such as lunch entrees, chef’s salad, grilled cheese and deli sandwiches, and desserts for teachers and district employees.
“Over the last few months the school’s restaurant management team has researched, prepared, practiced, and practiced some more,” said Elgin High culinary arts teacher Ann Leider. “They went into the Illinois ProStart competition confident and proud of their restaurant concept. This team was just very dedicated from the very beginning, and motivated.”
Leider said the competition helps prepare students for college and future careers in the hospitality and restaurant industry.
“It’s good for entrepreneurship because they really are designing a business,” she said.
The students were given a fictional city called “ProStartville” and had to come up with a restaurant concept factoring in demographics, target market, type of cuisine, menu items, menu layout, menu prices, interior design and decor, restaurant layout, organizational chart, and two marketing tactics to promote it. Students also had to answer judges’ questions about sanitation, product procurement, food prices, workplace injuries, and customer service.
They named their casual dining family restaurant “Spotlight.”
“It’s kind of like Hard Rock Cafe but without the music ... it’s more movies,” said Flanagan, who was on the team that placed 10th at the national competition last year.
Flanagan said he may one day try to open his own restaurant using that concept. For now, he hopes to study business administration and hospitality management at Robert Morris University in Elgin starting this fall.
This was Elgin High’s fourth year competing in either the culinary arts or restaurant management categories of the state competition. The restaurant management team won first place the last two years, and placed second the year before. The culinary team placed second three times, and took third place one year.
“We’re the only one from District U-46 that competes in this specific competition,” Leider said.
Many students who have participated in the Clumsy Chefs program have earned scholarships and gone on to study the culinary arts or hospitality management, she said.
“I believe it’s been really successful,” said Leider, who has been teaching at the school five years. “The majority of them go on to culinary careers. I don’t know where they are going to place in nationals, but they are going to be very successful in their future.”
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