NRHEG teacher recognized for excellence in culinary program

Published 6:50 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

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Kelly Delacruz, family and consumer science teacher at NRHEG, had a busy week last week, though it had nothing to do with the Freeborn County Fair. She was busy educating people, though her audience wasn’t young people, it was fellow teachers.

“Every year Hospitality Minnesota — the state’s branch of the National Restaurant Association — hosts a teacher training to introduce ProStart for schools that aren’t doing ProStart, and continue education for teachers who are already teaching ProStart,” she said.

ProStart is culinary training for students interested in pursuing a career in the industry.

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The two-day training, which started last Wednesday, was held at General Mills’ corporate office in Golden Valley. According to Delacruz, roughly 40 family and consumer science teachers from all over the state attended.

Training included 45-minute sessions at five different stations, where instructors taught about such topics as hollandaise, cooking with eggs, searing/sautéing, baking and proper knife skills. 

“Getting us in the kitchen with hands-on chefs from the industry really helps give us the skills we need to bring back to our students,” she said.

Delacruz was among a group of people who presented the next morning, where she spoke about her transition from an old-style classroom space to NRHEGs current program.

“ProStart is the only class that I teach as a full-year program,” she said, noting students could take the class up to three years.

She described the class as a competition class where students competed at the state level. 

The students also participated in fundraising events. 

This spring, Delacruz was honored with the state’s ProStart Educator of Excellence award from ProStart, something she admitted she didn’t know existed.

“This was our first year taking students to compete at state competition,” she said, referring to the ProStart state invitational.

She described the invitational as a culinary competition where students were asked to create a three-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) in an hour. 

Students were also asked to make two plates for each three-course meal, one for display and the other for judges to taste.

“There were over 40 judges, different chefs from all over the state of Minnesota,” she said, noting different chefs evaluated different aspects of the competition such as knife cuts and sanitization.

After meals were prepared, competitors were asked to bring their meals into a room where another set of judges would measure the three separate dishes.

They also were forbidden from using electricity.

Students were allowed to choose their menus and were required to bring the food, with table space being the only thing provided.

“We bring our sanitizer buckets, all of our equipment, our pans, our food, everything has to be brought to the event,” she said. 

According to Delacruz, her students loved it. The program also brought students together.

“I get students who are into sports, I get students who are into art, I get students who really don’t have a compass or a focus at all,” she said. “Bringing those kids together, and having them work together in the environment that we have here, it really takes a mesh of all different backgrounds and it creates a family.”

As part of winning, she flew out to Dallas for summer training.

“There’s about 150 ProStart teachers and chefs from all over the nation that go to this training, this summer institute, and we spent three days learning all about the curriculum, and the content,” she said. “We spent a day at Dallas College where we cooked almost all day long and learned about different dishes and things like that with chefs there.”

The culmination of the event was a dinner and awards ceremony.

“I, honestly, am just humbled and amazed by everything that it’s done for my program, that it’s done for our community, the opportunities that it’s created for our students,” she said. “That’s the amazing part of it, a small school district like ours to be even recognized for something like this, that we’re trying hard to create a program that is giving these resources to our students, and these opportunities.” 

Going to Dallas also allowed her to work one-on-one with other teachers from across the country who had already been taking their students to state and national competitions.

“Just learning how my students and I can really hone in and focus on our skill to bring them up to the new level,” she said, noting recipes were shared as well.

Originally planning to pursue a career as a dental hygienist, she described family and consumer science as a newer version of home economics encompassing many areas.

“We do housing and design, international cuisine, introduction to foods courses like Fundamentals of Foods,” she said.

She also teaches child and human development, a class in interpersonal relationships and sewing.

“We’re a very broad area of family life skills,” she said, adding that she loved sewing, cooking and entertaining.

Delacruz has taught family and consumer science at the school since 2018.