Pillager High School to represent Minnesota at national culinary arts competition

Pillager will compete May 2-4 at National ProStart Invitational in Washington, D.C.

People in chefs' coats posing for a photo.
Chef mentor Tom Kavanaugh, left, Ethan Thom, Briana Blais, Islay Peterson, Delaney Deuel, Samantha Barent, Malaney Laveau and Pillager educator and coach Jenny Wise at the recent Minnesota State ProStart Invitational in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Mediterranean was the big winner at the Feb. 28 Minnesota State ProStart Invitational for culinary arts and restaurant management.

This year, 14 teams from 11 schools participated in the annual competition comprising two divisions — culinary and management. The annual competition is sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation and coordinated locally by the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation.

Pillager High School took first place in the culinary division with “A Night in Italy,” a three-course menu featuring Roman style mortadella meatballs for the appetizer; Tuscan grilled hen “Diavolo” and risotto for the entrée; and a chocolate ganache and peanut tart for dessert.

They produced their meal within the allotted one-hour timeframe and were judged on knife skills, teamwork, sanitation, presentation and taste.

The student chefs on the team are Ethan Thom, Briana Blais, Islay Peterson, Delaney Deuel, Samantha Barent, Malaney Laveau. They are coached by Pillager educator Jenny Wise and mentored by Chef Tom Kavanaugh of Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort in Brainerd.


Greek mythology was the inspiration for the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School Management division team. They presented a restaurant concept based on Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and the harvest. “Demeter’s Harvest” is a Greek fusion restaurant sourcing local foods and sharing their bounty with the community by giving a percentage of their proceeds to local nonprofits.

They presented their concept to a panel of industry professionals serving as competition judges. They are scored on concept, menu and costing, operations, marketing and critical thinking.

The student entrepreneurs on the team are Annika Broman, Fionn Falk, Kavan Gullette, Chloe Molitor. They are coached by ProStart educator Mary Levinski and mentored by Executive Chef James Leeder-Botnan of McGarry’s Pub in Maple Plain.

Full list of finishers and award recipients

Knife Skills: The top four students that demonstrated the best knife skills:

  • Dellaney Deuel — Pillager High School
  • Laruen Schreder — Cambridge High School
  • Grant Stoltman — Elk River High School
  • Julian Bunney — Integrated Arts Academy

Each student received a knife set in recognition.
Teamwork: Zimmerman High School-Team A.

Professional Menu Design: Elk River High School.

Sanitation: Elk River High School.


Essence of Taste Award: Pillager High School.

Creative Plating Award: Elk River High School.

Team Spirit: Hopkins High School.

Competition Awards: First-place winners in the state competition go on to represent Minnesota May 2-4 at the National ProStart Invitational in Washington D.C.


  • First place: Sauk Rapids-Rice High School.
  • Second place: Elk River High School.
  • Third place: Proctor High School.


  • First place: Pillager High School.
  • Second place: Elk River High School.
  • Third place: Sauk Rapids Rice High School.
  • Fourth place: Hopkins High School.
  • Fifth place: Zimmerman High School-Team A.

In addition, two ProStart leaders were recognized at the event for their commitment to the students in their programs. They are:

  • 2023 Minnesota ProStart Mentor of the Year: Executive Chef James Leeder-Botnan of McGarry’s Pub in Maple Plain. Leeder-Botnan is mentor to the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School team.
  • 2023 Minnesota ProStart Teacher of the Year: Kelly Delacruz of New Richmond-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School. 

Supported by the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation, ProStart is a nationally-recognized career and technical education program focused on teaching culinary arts and restaurant management fundamentals through a combination of classroom and industry instruction.
In Minnesota in the 2022-23 academic year, ProStart is offered in 90 high schools, where 5,500 students are enrolled this year. In addition to a classroom curriculum and the chance to join an Invitational team, engagement by industry professionals is a valuable component of the program. Through a generous grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the program is growing through support to schools to acquire the curriculum and procure needed supplies.


For more information on the National ProStart Invitational May 2-4 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., visit . For more information on the Minnesota ProStart program, visit or find the group on Facebook , Instagram , LinkedIn and Twitter .

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