Student chefs team up to prepare Thanksgiving dinners for Utah families in need

Posted at 6:21 PM, Nov 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-26 20:21:53-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 40 cooks teamed up Thursday to provide Thanksgiving dinners for hundreds of Utahans in need. But, these aren't professional chefs, in fact, they're due back in a classroom on Monday.

Several high school students are spending their Thanksgiving vacation a little differently than most.

“Today we're making turkey dinners for people who can't feed themselves, in association with the Salvation Army," Chef Justin Smith said.

They are part of the ProStart education program, which started in Utah in 1996.

The two-year program provides high school juniors and seniors with culinary skills and training in order to prepare them for a career in the restaurant industry.

“I started doing ProStart when I was a senior at West High School, and it has helped me so much, they encouraged me to find a job at a restaurant, they got me an internship," Chef Victor Perez, a former ProStart student, said.  "It has helped me a lot, I started with ProStart in high school and it has got me here."

The students have spent all week mincing, peeling and chopping more than 700 pounds of vegetables. And, come Thursday, they were up at 5 a.m. at the University of Utah to mash, roast and bake a homemade meal for more than 750 families.

The students said they're happy they have a chance to give back.

“It’s such a good, surreal feeling knowing that what I’m doing and what I love is helping other people," Smith said.

And their instructors say the students get to learn the best part of the restaurant industry firsthand.

“Our ProStart students get to learn the best thing about the restaurant industry," ProStart Instructor Katy Sine said. "The best thing about the restaurant industry is that we serve people. We love them, we nourish them and nurture them."

“Today is for you, some other day is going to be for me," Perez said. "It's always [good to] help when you can, I think."

This fall, more than 1,500 students from more than 70 high schools across the state were trained in the ProStart program.

The students are gearing up for regional competitions happening in February.