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Young South Dakota chefs earn trip to ProStart Invitational finals

A group of South Dakota students are making their way to Baltimore to show off their culinary skills.

The ProStart Invitational is a hospitality and culinary competition for students interested in discovering the next steps in their careers after school.

Janelle Whempner is the instructor of the Sioux Falls CTE Academy team, which won top prize in the culinary division.

"This is not just about cooking, there’s a lot of math that goes into it, they have to take care of costing, also there’s public speaking," Whempner said. "They do believe in helping them become great young chefs someday.”

Whempner said the competition is an opportunity to learn hard lessons in a safe environment.

“When I gave them their little pep talk after we won, I said – don’t say no to something because you think you can’t do it," Whempner said. "Find people that can help you, that can support you, build a good team around you – and then anything is possible. Don’t be afraid to fail, that’s when you learn. If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks and challenging yourself enough.”

These contests are more than just giving students a chance to cook. South Dakota Retailers Association membership director Sienna Regynski said these competitions help create the next generation of business owners.

“It’s giving them insight into what it looks like to work in the industry, and hopefully sparks that interest for them to pursue that as a career going forward," Regynski said.
"With workforce, our hospitality industry is really keying in on these students and how much they are learning and the skills they achieve when they’re in the ProStart program.”

Northeast Technical High School won the management competition and will join CTE at the national finals in Baltimore April 26-18th.

Team CTE is made up of Connor Ibis, Jacob Newell, Alex Brenner, Misty Vonderleith, and Davian Gunderson. Team Northeast consisted of Alex Lam and Alisa DeMoss.

Another group of TF Riggs students, MacKenize Magee and Kierstan Miller, took home top prize in the cake decorating competition. That contest is local to South Dakota students only.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture