Media Contact:
Erica P. Burns
Director of Communications
Louisiana Restaurant Association
504.636.6516 Direct Line
504.454.2277 Office

Metairie, LA-The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) will host its 16th Annual Louisiana ProStart® Student Invitational, March 30-31, 2017, at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, Hall J. The Louisiana Hospitality Foundation is the title sponsor of the ProStart Culinary Competition, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers is the title sponsor of the ProStart Management Competition, Friday, March 31, 2017.

More than $3.8 million in scholarships will be awarded to students whose team places in the top five in both the culinary and management competitions. The funds were donated from 13 of the leading post-secondary culinary and hospitality programs in the country, including: Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University, Culinary Institute of America, Louisiana Culinary Institute and the University of New Orleans, among others.

"These students are pairing a beloved food culture with the ProStart curriculum, which are both highly regarded," said Stan Harris, Louisiana Restaurant Association President & CEO. "It is remarkable to see these students compete during this event and utilize the most important elements of being successful in the restaurant industry or any career path-teamwork, presentation skills, communications and critical thinking."

ProStart is a nationwide, two-year culinary arts and restaurant management program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow's restaurant industry leaders. By uniting the classroom and the industry, ProStart gives students a platform to discover new interests and talents and opens doors for fulfilling careers. Students are required to complete a 400-hour work internship, thus providing hands-on training. Many LRA members serve as mentors to ProStart students and also hire them.

The invitational showcases the culinary and academic talents of high school junior and senior ProStart students from 37 schools across Louisiana. The invitational features two primary components: the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation ProStart Culinary Competition and the Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers ProStart Management Competition. The Opening Ceremony begins Thursday, March 30 at 9:15 a.m. in Hall J.

During the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation ProStart Culinary Competition, Thursday, March 30 from 9:55 a.m.-3:05 p.m., teams will demonstrate their creative abilities through the preparation of a three-course, gourmet meal. Twenty-nine judges from the foodservice industry and post-secondary educational institutions will observe and rate their performance during the competition. Judges volunteering their time and expertise include: Chef Chip Flanagan of Ralph's on the Park; Chef Michael Gulotta of Mopho and Maypop; Chef Patricia Morton of Besh Restaurant Group; Chef Anthony Scanio of Emeril's Delmonico; and Chef Jason Goodenough of Carrollton Market, among others.

"We greatly value the importance of educating today's youth and are excited to be the title sponsor of the 2017 ProStart Culinary Competition for the second year in a row," said David Blitch, President and Co-Founder, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation. "Our foundation works year round to provide resources for children in the community, and access to culinary education will help develop the future of our hospitality industry. The ProStart program is very unique and a true value to Louisiana's future."

Teams participating in the Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers ProStart Management Competition, Friday, March 31 from 9:45 a.m.-1:45 p.m. will demonstrate their knowledge of the restaurant and foodservice industry by developing a restaurant concept, including the menu, design, budget and marketing strategies which they present to a panel of judges as an entrepreneur would pitch to a group of investors.

Judges include: Sayed Mekhemar of Delaware North; Peter Sclafani of Ruffino's Restaurants; Matt Massey and Derrick Dunne of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers; Jen Kelley of the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation; Dr. Yvette Green of Kabacoff School of HRT at UNO; Dr. William Thibodeaux of Chef John Folse Culinary Institute; among others. The Awards Ceremony concludes the two-day event, Friday, March 31 at 2:45 p.m. in Hall J.

"Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers came to be what it is today based on a dream, hard work and passion. ProStart ignites those ideals in students making this program invaluable to the restaurant industry," said Todd Graves, CEO, Fry Cook and Cashier, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers. "The students participating in the Raising Cane's ProStart Management Competition will pitch restaurant concepts and exhibit critical thinking far beyond their years, and it's reminiscent of how I got my start."

For the first time, the ProStart Student Invitational will feature the ProStart Speaker Series, which will coincide with the management competition on Friday, March 31. These presentations from industry leaders are designed for the students in attendance who are interested in a career in the restaurant and hospitality industries. The Speaker Series kicks off at 9 a.m. with a Keynote Presentation from Chef John Besh-"Culinary Entrepreneurship." Five other speakers will follow on the hour, every hour until 2 p.m.: Marissa Thrower-Fisher of McDonald's Franchisee Jamjomar XXIV, LLC; restaurant consultant Dianne Sclafani; Brooke Neal Hartman of FSC Interactive; Ochsner Eat Fit's Molly Kimball and Craig Smith of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers.

The 2017 LRAEF ProStart Student Invitational Sponsors include: Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor Services, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation, Louisiana Restaurant Association, National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, Performance Foodservice Caro, Atmos Energy, Baton Rouge Epicurean Society, Ben E. Keith Co., Delaware North, Ecolab, Louisiana Culinary Institute (Scholarship Sponsor), Besh Restaurant Group, Louisiana Gas Association, Capitol City Produce, Centerplate, Coca-Cola, Community Coffee, Freeman Decorating, and the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. The LRAEF would also like to thank the nine chapters of the LRA for their support throughout the year.

The participating schools in each competition are:


Abbeville High School
Arlington Preparatory Academy
East Iberville School
Fontainebleau High School
Franklinton High School
Hammond High Magnet School
Lafourche Parish ProStart
Lakeshore High School
Live Oak High School
North Vermilion High School
Rayne High School
St. Charles Satellite Center
St. James Parish Career & Tech. Center
Tara High School
West End Instructional Center
West Feliciana High School
West St. John High School
Woodlawn High School


Academy of Our Lady
Belaire High School
Denham Springs High School
Donaldsonville High School
Hammond High Magnet School
Lakeshore High School
North Vermilion High School
Rayne High School
Springfield High School
Tara High School
West Feliciana High School

The winning teams will go on to represent Louisiana at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's ProStart Student Invitational, April 28-30, 2017, in Charleston, South Carolina, where they will compete for more than $1 million in additional scholarships.


About ProStart
ProStart is a registered trademark of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

ProStart is a two-year, culinary arts and restaurant management program for high school juniors and seniors with a curriculum designed to teach students culinary techniques as well as restaurant management skills. ProStart is in 60 Louisiana high schools statewide with 1,600 students participating in the program. ProStart in Louisiana is administered by the LRA Education Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the LRA. For more information about LRA Education Foundation, visit

The Louisiana Restaurant Association is one of the largest business organizations in the state, representing restaurant operations and related businesses. The restaurant industry in Louisiana is one the state's largest private employer, providing jobs to 207,700 residents. Restaurants in Louisiana are expected to generate sales of $8.9 billion in 2017. Get up-to-date news about the LRA and the restaurant industry from

About Louisiana Hospitality Foundation
Founded in 2006, the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation facilitates the efforts of the hospitality industry to provide support for the education, health and social welfare of children in the community, as well as provide financial support to members of the hospitality industry in times of crisis. Since its inception, the Foundation has distributed over $1.2 million in support of its mission. These funds are raised through events including Horses, Hops and Cops, The Capital One Champions Club at Zurich Classic, the Red Stick Food Fest, the Gold Medal Chefs Gala, and the Louisiana Seafood Festival. Follow on Facebook at and on Twitter at, and for additional information visit

About Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers
Founded in Baton Rouge in 1996, Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers® has more than 250 restaurants in 20 states. The company has ONE LOVE®-quality chicken finger meals-and is known for its unique business model, exceptional customer service and active community involvement. With more than 60 restaurants in Louisiana, Raising Cane's is particularly committed to its home state focusing its efforts on education, pet welfare, active lifestyles, feeding the hungry and business development.