As teachers and students are gearing up to head back to school, one select group of teachers is bringing some extra-specialized knowledge back to the classroom. I recently visited one of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) Summer Institutes, which are sponsored by the Darden Foundation, to see how high school teachers are being transformed into culinary educators.
The Darden Foundation supports the NRAEF ProStart program, a culinary curriculum that reaches more than 95,000 students in 1,900 high schools across the country. ProStart empowers high school students to master the career and culinary skills necessary to help them succeed in culinary school and our industry. This program wouldn’t be possible without the amazing ProStart educators who train the students to become restaurant and foodservice leaders.
ProStart educators are comprised of high school teachers who are passionate about helping students pursue their dreams of becoming culinary professionals. The Summer Institutes are week-long immersive workshops held all over the country where educators learn directly from culinary professionals and acquire cutting-edge skills that they can take back to the classroom. There are different levels depending on the educator’s experience, and Darden provides scholarships for many educators to attend the Summer Institutes.
I attended a Level 2 (Advanced) Summer Institute at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, to see the training first-hand and meet the educators. The workshops combine industry knowledge with culinary skills. The passion of these teachers was evident. Their questions ranged from how to help their students obtain culinary scholarships to which techniques and skills students need to be successful.
They attended sessions, such as “Purchasing,” “Building a Career in the Industry,” “Customer Service” and “Food Safety.” Of course, there was also a lot of cooking. The educators watched numerous cooking demonstrations, and then they worked to recreate the dish. After the educators prepared the various dishes, the chefs would critique them so they could improve their own cooking techniques and provide more constructive feedback to their students. I had the opportunity to try several dishes, ranging from ratatouille to lamb tagine, and all were impressive.
It was rewarding to meet three educators whose attendance at the Austin Summer Institute was sponsored directly by the Darden Foundation. They asked excellent questions about Darden’s operations and demonstrated great enthusiasm for their students.
The educators left with new skills and experiences that they could implement once the new school year begins. In addition to sponsoring the educators and Summer Institutes, we also award annual scholarships to ProStart students going to culinary schools, and I appreciated the opportunity to meet the passionate teachers behind the amazing students we support.
By: Stephanie Ghertner, Director of Community Affairs & The Darden Foundation