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Helping Cape Region high schoolers succeed in the food service industry

March 8, 2019

It’s been going on for a while. New hires for restaurant kitchen duty were proving not to be as skilled as they said they were. And applicants for upper-level positions that required certifiable experience, such as executive chef or general manager, were fewer and farther between. Many new hires couldn’t even make it through the season. And nowhere was this trend more obvious than in seasonal resort communities. 

Chefs and restaurant owners agree: Skilled help in busy kitchens is getting harder to find. Seven years ago you would not have seen job fairs here at the beach in the late winter. Now, you need look no further than the Cape Gazette to see display ads and classifieds that include job fairs held by giants such as SoDel Concepts, Big Fish Restaurant Group and Touch of Italy - some with refreshments and other goodies to attract potential culinary professionals to their ranks. 

The Delaware Restaurant Association stepped up to the plate with the well-regarded ProStart program: a nationwide, two-year, industry-written curriculum for high school students.

The elective program introduces students to the culinary and management skills needed for a career in the restaurant and foodservice industry. A significant number of these students continue into nationally accredited culinary schools. Some even return to Sussex County to become part of the business of eating here at the beach. Wouldn’t it be nice to increase those numbers! 

To that end, Touch of Italy restaurants and RehobothFoodie.com have teamed up to form the nonprofit Culinary Scholarship Fund. Tuition assistance is available primarily to students who successfully complete the classroom/practical levels of DRA’s ProStart program. However, exceptions have been made, including students attending the well-regarded culinary programs at Wor-Wic Community College and Delaware Technical Community College. Not every Delaware high school is equipped to teach the programs, but more are in the works. 

Applicants who successfully complete the ProStart programs will be eligible for tuition assistance for their first two years at an accredited postsecondary culinary school, i.e., a culinary school that can demonstrate successful educational outcomes; specifically job placement. Students will be required to maintain a certain grade level in order to qualify. 

On Tuesday, April 9, the scholarship foundation kicks off the fourth annual Carnevale fundraiser to benefit budding candidates for culinary and management careers. The event is modeled after Italy’s celebrated Carnevale - the Italian Mardi Gras. The Rehoboth Touch of Italy morphs into a traditional street fair with masks, auctions and bountiful food, wine and beer from five of Italy’s notable regions. For 2019, Carnevale is spotlighting five secret Italian culinary regions! Curious? Buy a ticket! 

The live auctions at Carnevale are always highly spirited. And it’s no wonder! One-of-a-kind prizes and events are up for bid, including a limo-based progressive dinner at four SoDel Concepts restaurants, a wheelbarrow-full of Dogfish Head brews, and an in-home dinner for 10 catered by none other than The Rehoboth Foodie, Touch of Italy boss Bob Ciprietti and the Cape Region’s undisputed cheesemonger, Bill Wilson. Another highly coveted prize is a limo-centered day trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx - where Bob Ciprietti grew up. The trip includes lunch, dinner, snacks, and a tour of his old haunts, including many of the mom & pop shops that still provide ingredients to Touch of Italy restaurants. 

As if that were not enough, an all-expenses-paid trip to Rome, Italy will be raffled off, with the winner selected and announced live on The Rehoboth Foodie’s Sip & Bite radio show. Raffle tickets and admission to Carnevale can be purchased at any Touch of Italy restaurant, at www.CarnevaleDE.com or by calling 302-212-0171. 

Help keep our fledgling chefs, line cooks, restaurant owners and managers right here in Sussex County by being a part of Carnevale Tuesday, April 9. I promise you that you will NOT leave hungry! 

  • 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 byesbek@capegazette.com.