Metairie, LA—The Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation (LRAEF) will host its 17th Annual Louisiana ProStart® Student Invitational, February 26-27, 2018, at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, Hall J. The Louisiana Hospitality Foundation is the title sponsor of the Culinary Competition, Monday, February 26, 2018. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is the title sponsor of the Management Competition, Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

More than $1.4 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 12 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, where they experience hands-on training. ProStart is important because it provides a pathway to a student’s future success and a foundation for a variety of career choices—from management and culinary operations, to supply chain positions and marketing support. The possibilities are endless in an industry with many facets. 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 25 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 sponsored by TABASCO® begins Monday, February 26 at 9 a.m. in Hall J. The Opening Ceremony will feature keynote speaker Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona, Mondo and Rosedale restaurants in New Orleans.

During the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation ProStart Culinary Competition, Tuesday, February 27 from 10 a.m.-3:45 p.m., teams will demonstrate their creative abilities through the preparation of a three-course, gourmet meal. Twenty-eight 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 Tariq Hanna of Sucré, Chef Michael Gulotta of Mopho and Maypop; Chef Mike Brewer of City Pork (a former King of Louisiana Seafood); Chef Rebecca Klaskala of Restaurant R’evolution; 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 2018 ProStart Culinary Competition for the third 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 unique and a true value to Louisiana’s future.”

Teams participating in the Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers ProStart Management Competition, Tuesday, February 27 from 9:30 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: Peter Sclafani of Ruffino’s Restaurants; 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; and Jeff Conaway of Beausoleil; among others. The Awards Ceremony concludes the two-day event, Tuesday, February 27 at 2:45 p.m. in Hall J. The Awards Ceremony will feature keynote speaker Chef Michael Gulotta of Mopho and Maypop restaurants in New Orleans.

“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.”

The 2018 LRAEF ProStart Student Invitational Sponsors are: Louisiana Hospitality Foundation- Culinary Competition Sponsor, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers- Management Competition Sponsor, TABASCO®- Opening Ceremony Sponsor, Centerplate- In-Kind Competition Meal Sponsor, PJ’s Coffee- Competition Meal Sponsor, Faux Pas Prints- Competition T-Shirt Sponsor, Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar- Competition Apparel Sponsor. Special thanks to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, Inc., Freeman Decorating and New Orleans Morial Convention Center.

The 2018 LRAEF Annual Partners are: Five Diamond: Acme Oyster House, Auto-Chlor System, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, Louisiana Hospitality Foundation and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; Four Diamond: Performance Foodservice Caro; Three Diamond: Baton Rouge Epicurean Society and Delaware North; Two Diamond: Louisiana Gas Association; and One Diamond: Katie’s Restaurant and Patrick J. Gros, CPA. 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:

Louisiana Hospitality Foundation CULINARY Competition

Abbeville High School

Ascension Parish ProStart

Broadmoor High School

Chalmette High School

Denham Springs High School

East Iberville High School

East St. John High School

Fontainebleau High School

Franklinton High School

Hammond High Magnet School

Lafourche Parish Career Magnet Center

Lakeshore High School

Live Oak High School

Morgan City High School

North Vermilion High School

Salmen High School

Slidell High School

St. Charles Satellite Center

St. James Parish Career & Tech. Center

Sulphur High School

West Feliciana High School

West St. John High School

Woodlawn High School


Academy of Our Lady

Broadmoor High School                        

Donaldsonville High School 

East St. John High School             

Hammond High Magnet School       

North Vermilion High School

Springfield High School

Sulphur High School

West Feliciana High School                  

The winning teams will go on to represent Louisiana at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart Invitational, April 27-29, 2018, in Providence, Rhode Island, where they will compete for more than $1 million in additional scholarships.



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 56 Louisiana high schools statewide with more than 1,200 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 $9 billion in 2018. 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.

Media Contacts:
Erica P. Burns
Louisiana Restauraunt Association | (504) 636-6516