Send a kid to … culinary school!

April 30, 2016

The business of eating here in the Cape Region is facing the fact that reliable, skilled help in professional kitchens is getting harder to find. In response to this trend, the Delaware Restaurant Association has stepped up to the plate with the well-regarded ProStart program; a nationwide, two-year industry-written curriculum for high school students. Graduates can either apply their newfound culinary and management skills to entry-level positions in the industry, or continue their culinary education at private, postsecondary culinary schools.

The DRA stands behind the ProStart programs through the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation by awarding scholarships to students and educators who distinguish themselves in the programs. I was honored to experience that collaboration firsthand at last week’s 2nd Annual DRAEF Fundraising Dinner at Harry’s Savoy Grill and Ballroom in Wilmington. I was part of the “beach crew” (we distinguish ourselves by NOT wearing ties, but we DO avoid flip-flops) consisting of DRA notables Josh Grapski (Nage, Crooked Hammock, Big Chill Cantina, Taco Reho), Steve “Monty” Montgomery (The Starboard, Bethany Blues, Starboard Raw), Matt DiSabatino (Striper Bites, Kindle and Half Full) and Kevin Roberts (managing partner, Bethany Blues). Monty’s Atlantic Transportation generously provided a fully outfitted limo for the trip.

DRAEF Chairman of the Board Meghan Gardner (Blue Moon) singled out and honored ProStart students and graduates who prepared and served the lavish feast under the watchful eyes of Sussex-centered Executive Chefs Sean Corea (Nage), Lion Gardner (Blue Moon), and Doug Ruley, Andy Feeley and Brenton Lyman (SoDel Concepts).

In spite of the DRA’s efforts to swell the ranks of culinary and management professionals, there is always room for more support, especially for students who might return to the Cape Region to staff our ever-growing lineup of great restaurants. To that end, Touch of Italy restaurants and teamed up to form the 501(c)(3) Culinary Scholarship Fund, providing tuition assistance primarily to Sussex County high schoolers who distinguish themselves in the classroom/practical levels of DRA’s ProStart. At the moment, qualified applicants who successfully complete the ProStart programs at Seaford Senior High School and Cape Henlopen High School have a shot at the generous scholarships.

On March 8, 2016, Touch of Italy and, along with generous sponsors Cape Gazette, SoDel Concepts, Delmarva Broadcasting Company, Signarama, Dogfish Head, The Point Coffee House & Bake Shoppe and a long list of cash contributors and wine/food purveyors, presented the Carnevale! Street Fair to benefit the scholarship fund. In fact, the insanely busy Touch of Italy in Rehoboth Beach actually closed for two days in order to accommodate the gala. Talk about generous!

The fundraising efforts include a raffle for an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy. Ticket sales were strictly limited, so every ticketholder has a good chance of being the lucky winner. And that lucky winner will be selected Saturday, April 30, live, on Delaware 105.9 FM’s Sip & Bite with the Rehoboth Foodie show, starting at 3 p.m.

Many people aren’t aware of the infrastructure and skills required to open and operate a successful restaurant. And nowhere is that more obvious than in a resort town, where Grand Opening signs can morph into For Lease signs in the blink of an eye. Organizations like the Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the Touch of Italy/ Culinary Scholarship Foundation work behind the scenes to ensure that our Delaware dining experiences continue to be safe, creative and enjoyable.

Bob Yesbek is a serial foodie and can be reached at


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