816 North

The main dish: Prostart welcomes gift of food, supplies for high school culinary classes

Jocelyn Amparan, North Kansas City High School junior, makes her first attempt sectioning a chicken in her Prostart class. The culinary arts program recently received $10,000 in equipment and food from five local organizations.
Jocelyn Amparan, North Kansas City High School junior, makes her first attempt sectioning a chicken in her Prostart class. The culinary arts program recently received $10,000 in equipment and food from five local organizations. Special to The Star

Northtown’s public schools received more than 300 pounds of poultry — or about 100 whole chickens — last week. That showed up with 40 pounds of onions and four gallons of olive oil.

Don’t worry. North Kansas City School District students know what to do with all of that.

The Northland public schools’ culinary arts curriculum, which is active in all five of its high schools, got a donation from the food industry to enhance cooking courses taught in all five of the district’s high schools. Prostart, a high-school cooking education program, got a $10,000 boost coordinated by the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association last week, a donation that includes 100 pieces of new kitchen equipment and hundreds of pounds of food.

US Foods, Sysco, Farmland Foods, C&C Produce and the area restaurant association contributed the supplies.

The restaurant group coordinated the donation for the district after being approached by North Kansas City High School culinary instructor Barb Skoglund.

“I just kept telling them, ‘I need a champion,’” Skoglund said at a press event coordinated with the donation’s arrival.

The 10-year-old culinary arts program has about 500 students across the district. Twenty Kansas City metro area schools participate in the culinary arts program, and there are Prostart programs in 100 schools across the state.

The hands-on nature of the course — as well as the added perk of getting to eat in class — makes the course a magnet for students.

“We actually turn kids away,” Skoglund said.

Buddy Lahl, the restaurant association treasurer, said Skoglund engaged the group five months ago. Lahl said each of the donations has a concrete classroom application. For example, the 98 whole chickens that US Foods donated was to be used in a lesson on how to properly cut poultry.

The donation includes a battery of small appliances, 40 sheet pans and 24 knife sets from the local restaurant association; poultry, 80 pounds of seafood and 36 pounds of butter from US Foods; 30 pounds of pork chops courtesy of Farmland Foods; and about 100 pounds of fresh vegetables from C&C Produce.

Skoglund initially approached Lahl and the restaurant association with a wish list of classroom supplies, every one of which was furnished between donations from each of the five participating organizations.

Rather than a donation, Lahl said the association sees its contribution as an investment in the food service labor pool because of Prostart’s professional development-centered curriculum. As part of their graded work, district students involved in the culinary arts program have to spend 400 hours in actual restaurants.

“Kids, where are you guys doing your kitchen shadowing?” Lahl called out to the students, who had arrived in full chef attire.

“54th Street,” one called out. The students also mentioned McDonalds, Hy-Vee and Culver’s.

“This is the future of the industry,” Lahl said.

The donation comes just as the Northland students are preparing to enter the Prostart competition on Jan. 30. The contest challenges Prostart students to create a gourmet meal on the fly while judges grade them on the taste of the finished products, communication among team members and the students’ food safety expertise.

Conor Henry, a North Kansas City High School junior, said the scarcity of time and workspace makes efficiency a huge component of the competition. Because competitors must work with only two burners and a pair of moderately sized tables, he said, there’s always plenty of multitasking going on.

“A lot of it is timing,” Henry said. “You can’t just do one thing, one dish at a time.”

For Henry’s first competition last year, his team prepared chicken in a demi-glace sauce alongside a radicchio-and-wheat-berry salad.

The students reported that refining their kitchen skills in the classroom is making them something of sticklers for culinary precision outside of school settings. Some reported having to correct parents who weren’t dicing food into even proportions and other industry-specific peeves they’ve developed as chefs.

“The worst is when I watch my dad hone a knife,” said Kai Simms-Huffhines, a Staley High School junior. “It’s just — trust me, it’s the worst.”