Culinary students earn top honors at state competition

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Whitefish students proved their restaurant and culinary skills at the State ProStart Invitational in Missoula on March 4.

The team notched a first place in restaurant management and a third in culinary at the invitational, which was held at the new Big Sky Culinary Institute at Missoula College on Broadway Street.

Teams from nine Montana high schools, including Belgrade, Bozeman, Cascade, Chinook, Drummond, Flathead, Hot Springs, Laurel and Whitefish, competed in the two competitions.

The restaurant management team consisted of Marshall Brown, Mackenzie Vick, Mackenzie Grover and Ian Caltabiano, all seniors.

Each student received $30,000 in scholarships for their performance. The team was mentored by Doug Reed, the owner and operator of Whitefish Lake Restaurant, and will compete at the National ProStart Invitational in Providence, Rhode Island on April 27-29.

The culinary team of Robert Bertlesen, Baileigh Krause, Zach Meadows and Caltabiano was mentored by chef Malcom Orser.

Each student received $10,000 in scholarships for finishing third.

Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Amanda Matdies said she was proud of how the students did, but she sees room for improvement moving forward.

“I think they did well,” she said. “I think, talking to them, they felt they did well but some of their fundamentals — especially in culinary — they felt they could’ve done better.”

On the culinary side, Matdies said the team was dealing with a last minute change after an emergency sent one team member home and Caltabiano jumped in as a replacement, despite having never made the recipe.

“To get third at state for culinary was great,” she said.

In restaurant management, teams of two to five students develop an original restaurant concept and present their business plan to panels of industry professionals who question the students about their concept, menu, costs, facility design, staffing and marketing.

In culinary competition, teams of two to five students have 60 minutes to prepare and plate two identical three-course meals consisting of a starter, an entrée and dessert using only two butane burners. They have no electricity, no running water and cannot receive any coaching from their teachers or mentors. Professional chefs and post-secondary instructors judge them on areas including food safety, presentation, taste, food cost, knife skills, their menu and more.

Montana ProStart is under the national ProStart umbrella, a program developed by the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation in conjunction with the industry. ProStart reaches nearly 140,000 students annually in all 50 states.

For more information on the national contest next month, visit

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