The student news site of Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif.

Whitney Update

The student news site of Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif.

Whitney Update

The student news site of Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif.

Whitney Update

Student chefs prepare for 2024 California ProStart Cup at Long Beach, competition alongside schools across the state

Alyssa Folmer
Flipping a homemade corn tortilla, Chef Brian Cramer shows Sam Marques, Samira Jackson and Elijah Lua what their taco shell should look like after sitting in the pan. After school Feb. 1, the Latin American team, “Los Frijoles,” practiced their recipe in order to prepare for the ProStart Cup. They prepared a three-course meal consisting of ceviche tostadas, steak tacos and buñuelos with fruit topping. Photo by Alyssa Folmer

After spending their sixth period preparing and cooking their daily dish, Cole Ramirez and Samira Jackson stay an extra two hours in the culinary kitchen on Thursdays and tread back to campus every other Sunday of the week, solely for the purpose of recipe crafting, practicing and executing intricate fine-dining dishes to prepare for the California Restaurant Foundation’s (CRF) ProStart Cup

The California ProStart Cup hosts more than 250 statewide high school students in a two-day culinary arts and restaurant entrepreneurship competition. The competition will take place at the Long Beach Convention center Feb. 21-22. In the convention center, aspiring chefs will craft three-course restaurant concept creations to a panel of experts in the food service industry. After their allotted hour of cooking, students are assessed on plating techniques, finishing touches, the flavors of their meals, knife-cut judgment and overall organization. 

In order to prepare for the competition, teams concept and test several recipes in order to decide what courses they want on their final menu. Two teams from the school participating are named by their group’s selected cultural cuisine: the Mediterranean team, “Spicy McKnife,” and the Latin American team, “Los Frijoles.” Elijah Lua, Jackson, Rachael Treto, Sam Marques and Ramirez are on the Latin American team and Rhaymark Nazareno, Rome Alston, Adam Heaps and Jamie Ball are on the Mediterranean team. With the shadowing of culinary teacher Chef Brian Cramer, teams go through a three-month preparation process for the cup.

“After coming up with an idea that we want for our menu, we get the ingredients for it and decide [whether or not] we like [them],” Jackson said. “Then, we just execute the process without the competition style, so basically we cook the food. But, once we get our recipe, we will start going into more of a competition practice with around four people cooking at the same time [to practice] how we’re going to do things.”

Before joining the culinary program, Jackson found an interest in the world of culinary arts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[It was during the] pandemic when [my family and I] couldn’t go out to eat a lot,” Jackson said. “My parents were like, ‘Oh, you can just start cooking on your own now,’ so I would [cook] hibachi-style dinners for my parents and I would sometimes [make] these extravagant meals every night.”

The California Restaurant Foundation allows students to become familiar with food service and exposes them to related career opportunities. Not only do students make dishes in front of foodservice professionals, there are incentives to their participation; a scholarship pool of $500,000 and occasional full-ride scholarships to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) for those who move onto the national-level competition. Aside from the competition, students are able to meet more than a dozen colleges, universities and restaurant and food brands during the event’s college and career fair. 

Chef Cramer has been honing in on the significance of the event on students’ careers after high school by advertising the cup to his intermediate and advanced classes – especially to those who are interested in pursuing culinary school, catering or hospitality services.

“I’m trying to build the program to be an annual event, however, as far as I know, there was about a three-year hiatus at the beginning of COVID-19 when we all [turned to] distance learning,” Cramer said. “The year that I came back was the first year that we started doing the ProStart competitions again.”

Marques participated in the cup last year. When it comes to the competition, her role is the manager. As a manager, her job is to make sure that the rest of the members on her team are on time and doing what they’re supposed to do while she observes from the outside.

“If something needs to get done and someone’s standing around, I make sure that they get that task done [while also making sure] everything is organized so that we finish on time,” Marques said. “It definitely puts me in a sort of leadership position. It’s a lot of communicating with them, so I also feel different from them.”

Growing up in a family who cooks at home regularly, Ramirez found his interest from his immediate connections. 

“I always loved helping them cook a lot when I was younger, and I think that definitely elevated with Chef [Cramer] coming to the culinary program and learning all these new things,” Ramirez said. “I [also] talked to a couple of chefs that my dad knows in order to decide if [culinary arts] is something I’d like to pursue. It’s something that you can’t be unsure about – cooking is your entire life. If you want to work in a kitchen, it’s often times long hours every day without usually a great pay, but I think it’s a great hobby and I love it a lot.” 

Cramer witnesses his students’ kitchen and restaurant etiquette capabilities evolve every day. He was also part of their moment on the big screen when students were broadcasted on live television by Gary on the Go on FOX40 News Jan. 26. For him, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects in the classroom and in the kitchen.

“It’s super satisfying to see the amount of growth that occurs just over a few months,” Cramer said. “In the classroom, we focus on one dish and a couple of techniques each week, so [I] get to see that sort of slow, paddling progression through that period of time. But, the speed of progression for students that are really involved with it is very drastic.”

[With the cup,] I get to spend some more one-on-one time with all the kids which is really fun to see. Especially when they open up and get to just enjoy being themselves a little more.

— Chef Brian Cramer

With the competition being hosted in Southern California, students get a few days to visit what the area has to offer. 

“[It’ll] be fun just to be down in Long Beach,” Ramirez said. “I think I’m really excited to see all of the different dishes that other people come up with, you know, whether it’s plating techniques or different techniques that they use while cooking.”

If students move on through the final competition, they will progress to the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore, Maryland. Winners from each state proceed to the national competition. 

“I’d be really excited [if we win the competition,” Jackson said. “Especially since if we did win, we would go on to Nationals. But, there are a lot of other schools that have longer training beforehand – I do have high hopes for us, but it’ll be a challenge.”


More to Discover