Kelvin is a graduate of the Santee Education Complex high school in Los Angeles, and that, he suggests, borders on miraculous, but not because typically just 40 percent of the students who go there leave with a diploma.
“I was like a full-blown gang member. I was on my way to either jail, or probably even the grave because I was rough out there,” he recalled of the days before he joined the ProStart culinary vocational training program at Santee. “When I got into [ProStart] class, it showed me a different side of the world—that the thing you see in your neighborhood is not the only thing that is out there.”
ProStart was introduced to Santee by the California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation in conjunction with the Triple Crown Initiative, a community-based career-technical education program.
There are now about 100 schools in California using National Restaurant Association-developed ProStart books and involved with some or all of the training initiative’s associated components, including certification and a statewide team cooking competition. But the ProStart programs at Santee and two other Los Angeles high schools stand out by virtue of new “enhancements,” says CRA Educational Foundation chairman Robert Spivak, a co-founding director of 25-unit, Los Angeles-based Grill Concepts Inc. and an industry consultant.
Spivak says those extras include appearances at participating schools by seasoned restaurateurs; field trips, including a jaunt to The Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona; the use of chef-mentors for ProStart-course instructors; and financial aid for students who need help to attend the contest.
“The cornerstone of the program is that we have paid internships,” Spivak said, pointing out that the CRAEF pays the $600-per-student stipend and provides insurance and “what we ask of the restaurants is that they really train the kids—not just have them peeling carrots.”
Spivak is proud of the existing efforts but says that to maintain and expand the enhanced ProStart program—ultimately nationwide, perhaps, he dreams—“we need to raise money.”
Darden Restaurants Inc., Yard House Restaurants and the CRA’s Los Angeles and Orange County chapters are early financial supporters.