HRIM's Joe DiGregorio works with high school teachers in the Vita Nova kitchen.

Industry-ready teaching

Preparing high school classrooms for the future of culinary and hospitality industries


8:27 a.m., Aug. 25, 2015--This summer high school teachers from across the United States visited the University of Delaware to learn hands-on skills to help them better prepare their students for hospitality education programs and careers in the restaurant industry.

This year marks the first time that UD’s Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM) has hosted a weeklong institute for high school teachers through the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart program. The 22 attendees included teachers from both Delaware high schools and from states including California, South Carolina and North Dakota.

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"The Pro-Start program helps to raise the quality of education in high school culinary and hospitality curricula,” said HRIM chairperson Sheryl Kline.

“Both the government and the industry recognize the need to support quality programs in our high schools," Kline continued, explaining that participating Delaware teachers received support from both the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware Restaurant Association.

“The goal is to energize and excite teachers about the restaurant industry and the many career tracks that it offers,” added Ron Cole, program leader and HRIM assistant professor. “We hope that they will return to their own programs and share their newfound knowledge and enthusiasm.”

The program achieves this through a blend of classroom discussion, industry site visits and hands-on culinary skill development in the state of the art commercial kitchen at Vita Nova, the HRIM department’s student-operated gourmet restaurant in the Trabant University Center.

Fellow program instructor Joe DiGregorio, executive chef and director of education for the HRIM department’s Food Service Lab, said that ProStart brings teachers up to speed on the latest developments in the restaurant industry and helps them to do the same for their students.

He added that the National Restaurant Foundation’s mark on the ProStart program provides assurance to both students and employers.

“When these students graduate, they are industry-ready and can get a job in a kitchen in a local Marriott or Hilton with confidence,” DiGregorio said.

Cole elaborated on this, saying, “These students are the future of the restaurant industry. Without them continued growth will not be possible.” 

Many high school students taught by ProStart program teachers will pursue additional training at two-year community colleges, culinary schools or HRIM degree programs like that at the University of Delaware.

During the program’s industry site visits, teachers experienced a state of the art seafood supplier and met with a marine biologist, visited two restaurants to hear first-hand about the challenges of opening, owning and operating a food service business and met with Xavier Texido, past president of both the National Restaurant Association and the Delaware Restaurant Association.

“The teachers all expressed a deep appreciation for the industry tours,” Cole said, adding that they also enjoyed learning more about Vita Nova and “how we use state of the art equipment and facilities to prepare our students to be successful managers.”

While working in the Vita Nova kitchen, the ProStart participants learned a variety of valuable restaurant industry skills to bring back to their classrooms.

DiGregorio said the teachers practiced classical cuts and knife safety as well as all of the major cooking methods, including grilling, braising, sautéing, deep-frying and poaching. 

Also important, he added, was the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers who focus on similar subjects.

“Everyone has a different take on teaching the curriculum of hotel restaurant management,” DiGregorio said. “So there was a lot of networking and sharing of ideas.”

ProStart participant Mandy Hines, a teacher at Davie High School in Mocksville, North Carolina, wrote a letter to the HRIM department about her ProStart experience.

“I'm so grateful for the week I had at the University of Delaware,” Hines wrote. “You have a superb program and I appreciate all of the effort you put into making the week full of learning experiences.

“As someone without the culinary background, but rather trained as a teacher, I loved being able to work in your kitchens with professional equipment under your expertise.”

Hines expressed interest in attending the higher levels of the ProStart program at UD, as did a number of her fellow participants, and the HRIM department is interested in hosting the program again in the future.

“The teachers had a variety of experiences both in the restaurant industry and the classroom,” Cole said. “The sharing of ideas was very beneficial to all of us.”

Article by Sunny Rosen

Photos by Evan Krape

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