A team of Wilbur Cross High School women brought home a first-place trophy to their school and a national championship to their state and the New England region. Not for the athletic ability or even their academic skill, but their business acumen.
Cross’s Restaurant Management Team won first place at this year’s National ProStart Invitational Restaurant Management Competition in Providence, R.I.. On Tuesday the team celebrated the win at City Hall.
The national competition is a Shark Tank meets Iron Chef event in which high schoolers representing management teams and culinary teams from all over the country pitch restaurant ideas and cook their best dishes before judges. This year Wilbur Cross’s Restaurant Management Team’s idea—a dessert shop that uses liquid nitrogen to make frozen treats—took home the gold. (Read more about how the students prepare here and how they performed last year here.)
Their teacher and coach, Chef Nathaniel Bradshaw said team captain Janaisha Taylor told him after last year’s invitational where the management team placed fifth that the team would win first prize this year.
“She said, ‘We’re going to put a team together where everyone gets along with each other,’” Bradshaw said. “You know what, good job!”
Mayor Toni Harp said she has hosted ceremonies at City Hall to celebrate all manner of student achievement including sports, academics and fine and performing arts but celebrating the championship efforts of this team is “a little different.”
“It’s unique and it’s something which every single one of us can relate,” Harp said. “Each of us has to eat. Virtually all of us go out to eat from time to time. Everyone can envision the challenges built into successful restaurant management. The extent of which these Wilbur Cross restaurant management students have excelled in something not usually associated with public education speaks to the new horizons being explored in the New Haven Public School System.”
She said the team’s achievement reflects New Haven’s continuing commitment to providing a meaningful education to all of its students.
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association and the Connecticut Hospitality Educational Foundation which supports the ProStart program in the state noted that the Wilbur Cross team is bringing the first ever national championship to the state and the New England region.
“I attended their presentation at the ProStart Invitation in Providence and I was blown away seeing them perform,” he said. “They were professional dedicated and focused on their goals and they presented a concept that judges called and I quote, ‘A restaurant ahead of the curve. A restaurant that investors would actually invest in.’”
Dolch noted that in addition to presenting a concept the team had to design a floor plan, a marketing scheme — essentially build a restaurant from the ground up and tell judges how they would run it. In addition to serving up non-dairy frozen desserts made with liquid nitrogen, the team said they would give part of their profits to fund scholarships and opportunities for young women interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. They worked on the concept for nearly a year.
“People understand sports and the amount of time and effort you put into playing a sport,” Dolch said. “The same is true for our culinary and our management teams.”
Wilbur Cross Principal Edith Johnson called the culinary program at Cross “one of the crown jewels.” She said the program is in such high demand that students have come to the school to be part of it and parents have been angry when it fills up. She praised Bradshaw’s dedication. The father of two usually picks up his children from school, delivers them home, cooks them dinner, and then comes back to school to work with students. He also cooks Thanksgiving breakfast for the annual Elm City Bowl.
Gil Traverso, director of instruction for high schools, said that the students’ success is an example of what passionate teaching and learning can do. He said it also proves the naysayers who negatively judge New Haven Public Schools that the students in the Elm City are better than most.
“When you have teachers teaching with passion every day, this is what you get,” he said. “National champions.”