Pillager ProStart team places 3rd at culinary competition

Lobster, honey-seared duck and chocolate mousse cake were on the menu Thursday, March 7, as the Pillager High School ProStart culinary team took third at the Minnesota ProStart Invitational in St. Paul.

Pillager High School students Emma Hopman (left), Chase Winterowd, Alexis Koehler, Katey Flansburg and Madalynn Jansen happily listen to a judge's feedback during the Minnesota ProStart Invitational Thursday, March 7, in St. Paul. Bill Johnson / Picture Day Pro!

Lobster, honey-seared duck and chocolate mousse cake were on the menu Thursday, March 7, as the Pillager High School ProStart culinary team took third at the Minnesota ProStart Invitational in St. Paul.

“It was a pretty exciting day,” team instructor Ann Hutchison said during a phone interview Friday. “I’m pretty proud.”

Now in the fifth year of the ProStart program and the third year of competition, Pillager placed higher than its previous best of 10th place.

The Pillager team of Katey Flansburg, Emma Hopman, Lexi Koehler, Chase Winterowd and alternate Madalynn Jansen beat out 14 other teams from across the state to secure a third place finish.

Teamwork, cleanliness, technique, taste, plating and cost-effectiveness of a three-course meal were all part of the judging criteria.


“What they have to do is come up with a meal, and they have to cost it out and prepare a whole booklet on what’s on the menu,” Hutchison said.

The Pillager students decided on a lobster appetizer, a honey-seared duck entree and chocolate mousse cake with ganache for dessert.

“It was really good. We tasted it many times,” Hutchison said. “We practiced at 6 in the morning many times. We’ve had our fill of the duck and the lobster and the cake, but it’s really good.”

And to make matters more difficult, the students had only two butane burners to cook on and were not allowed to use anything electric. So they whisked eggs by hand and baked their cake on a stovetop unit.

Hutchison was especially excited to see her team excel in skills like critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork -- skills needed in the restaurant management business.

“Just watching them from when they started until yesterday, getting them to work together as a team,” she said. “It’s all things you have to use in everyday life, but they don’t necessarily realize that.”

Now in the curriculum at six area schools, ProStart aims to teach students basic culinary skills and education them about the hospitality and restaurant management skills. It’s a nationwide, two-year high school program, and locally, it’s a joint effort among area resorts and restaurant leaders working with the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Central Lakes College, Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection, and Hospitality Minnesota.

“I think it’s pretty neat because our area restaurants and resorts are very, very supportive. Anything that we ask of them … they help they make it happen,” Hutchison said, adding Cub Foods allowed the students to bag groceries to raise funds for the trip to St. Paul, and Wild Acres poultry farm in Pequot Lakes donated the duck for their meal.


“It’s great that the community is so supportive,” she said.

And as the cherry on top of a successful day of competition, students on the top three teams all received letters from various culinary schools in the country offering scholarships if the kids decide to pursue the culinary arts.

Sysco, a wholesale food corporation, hosted Thursday’s competition, which was sponsored by Hospitality Minnesota. Judges included chefs from various restaurants, resorts and schools around the state, including Tom Johnson, of Breezy Point Resort.

Other schools in the area with either culinary or hospitality ProStart programs are Aitkin, Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus and Staples-Motley.


Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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