Forget camp: Send a kid to culinary school!

December 9, 2022

As the critical shortage of qualified restaurant help continues, new hires for both front- and back-of-house are often not as skilled as they claim. Even worse, applicants for upper-level positions that require certifiable experience, such as executive chef or general manager, are still few and far between. Though the problem is everywhere, nowhere is this trend more obvious than in a seasonal resort such our Cape Region.

And the fallout is obvious: Five years ago you would not have seen job fairs here at the beach where potential workers are offered food and even signing bonuses. You need look no further than the Cape Gazette to see display ads and classifieds that include job fairs held by some of the biggest restaurant operations here are the beach.

But “certifiable experience” can be achieved. The Delaware Restaurant Association is a major player in maintaining the state’s well-regarded ProStart program – a nationwide, two-year industry-written curriculum for high school students. This elective program teaches culinary and management skills needed for a career in the restaurant and food service industry. Some of these students could continue into nationally accredited culinary schools, but that can be difficult: quality postsecondary programs can cost more than $40,000 a year in tuition and supplies.

To that end, Touch of Italy restaurants and teamed up over five years ago to form the 501(c)(3) Culinary Scholarship Fund. The program offers tuition assistance primarily to students who successfully complete the classroom/practical levels of DRA’s ProStart program. Applicants may also qualify by showing actual restaurant experience or successful completion of a culinary curriculum from other educational institutions.

A couple of weeks ago at Touch of Italy’s annual Thanksgiving Eve party, the of Italy culminated its 2022 fundraising effort by drawing the winning ticket for an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the Italian Riviera and Lake Como. Ticket sales were strictly limited to 400 in order to increase a ticket buyer’s chances of winning. In spite of that limitation, the tickets sold out well over a month before the drawing. And it’s no wonder: in exchange for his or her $100 raffle purchase, the winner and a companion are treated to limo service to and from all airports, both in Italy and the Delaware Cape Region.

But that’s not all! The scholarship foundation goes all-out by including airfare, accommodations in some of the finest hotels, skip-the-line access to attractions, and a cooking class in the natural park of Portofino where the winner can master the art of traditional Ligurian cooking from Corzetti handmade pasta to pesto and local desserts. And, of course, the best part of any cooking class is to wash down what you’ve created with local wines and beers.

As if that weren’t enough, the journey includes a tour of Como and the southern part of Lake Como with its old-town center, amazing churches and fascinating alleys. Participants get to visit the great Gothic Renaissance Duomo, the Broletto town hall Palace, the 18th century Teatro Sociale and the church of San Fedele. The day is topped off with a water cruise (weather permitting, of course) to explore the southern part of Lake Como, the mountains and the elegant villas.

The itinerary also provides lots of free time to spend the $1,000 cash that’s included in the prize. What good is a trip to Italy if you can’t buy stuff? In the past, the scholarship fund has sent lucky winners to some of the most beautiful places in Italy, including Tuscany, Rome and Florence. And though only one couple can win, the generosity of all the ticket buyers benefits the real winners: the fledgling chefs, line cooks, owners and managers here in the Cape Region who, with their newfound skills, can make professional food service a career.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

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