Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
The Official Publication of the Illinois Restaurant Association
November 2015

Eyes on the Prize at the ProStart® Invitational


On the heels of the Illinois Restaurant Association’s Chef’s Table gala, which raised over $65,000 for the IRA Educational Foundation, the IRA is excited to announce the 15th Annual ProStart® Invitational on Saturday, February 6, 2016. Training is already underway for two dozen teams of ProStart® students contending for a trip to the National ProStart® Invitational in Dallas, Texas.

The Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (IRAEF) will welcome fourteen culinary teams and ten management teams comprised of high school ProStart students from across the state to compete in the Illinois ProStart® Invitational - a full day of culinary and restaurant management competitions. The event, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, is hosted by the IRAEF, Title Sponsor SYSCO-Chicago and Host Sponsor SAVOR...Chicago.

“Our ProStart® students train tirelessly for months to prepare for this exciting competition and recently had a full-day training at Kendall College,” says Kathy Summers, Executive Director of the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. “We look forward to seeing our best and brightest students compete and incorporate what they’ve learned in the classroom and kitchen into their competition dishes and presentations.”

Students will compete for the opportunity to represent Illinois at the National ProStart® Invitational in Dallas in April 2016, where they will compete against teams from 49 states (plus Guam & European military bases). The 1st-3rd place teams will win scholarships and prizes. Click here for a recap of the 2015 ProStart® Invitational.

ProStart® is a national school-to-careers program that prepares high school students for careers in foodservice and hospitality management. ProStart® in Illinois is administered by the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to over 4,000 students at 62 schools in the Chicagoland area. Students have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials and articulated credits for college while in high school.

The IRA Educational Foundation provides work readiness training and connects students to industry professionals through job shadowing and internships to help hone their skills in the foodservice industry. The ProStart® program is also offered in all 50 states encompassing more than 120,000 high school students in more than 2,000 high schools. For more information, visit

To learn more about supporting ProStart® and the Prostart® Invitational, please contact Kathy Summers (312) 380-4147 or

Flavor Profile

Q&A with ProStart Student Chris Chavez

The ProStart® program goes beyond providing a curriculum in the classroom by connecting students to industry via field trips, classroom speakers, career opportunities, and more. Recently, the IRA sat down with ProStart® student Chris Chavez, a senior at North Grand High School in Chicago, to learn about his experience in the program and find out about his plans for after graduation.

  • What does ProStart® mean to you?
    • Opportunity! It means hope because the program opens doors for students who wouldn’t otherwise have those opportunities. Most of us live in neighborhoods where we wouldn’t likely be able to learn about the restaurant industry. Kathy Summers, the Executive Director of the Ed Foundation, has helped me with my resume and taught me about being professional and the importance of being prepared.

  • How does cooking inspire you?
    • I love to cook because when I see an ingredient, I know I can make it into something beautiful and build flavor out of something that was nothing when I started with it.
  • Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
    • Rick Bayless – because of the way he’s able to manage his restaurants and present Mexican cuisine in different styles at each location - from Frontera Grill at O’Hare to Topolobampo - he does it all! And, I just found out that he offers a scholarship to Kendall College for students who have Latino or Mexican heritage. So I am inspired by his willingness to give back and help young students who are interested in the culinary industry.
  • What has been the best advice you’ve learned from a chef during your ProStart® career?
    • Never stop reading! I learned this at the 2014 Chicago Gourmet Hamburger Hop while I was working with Spike Mendelsohn’s sous chef Max. He said, “Never stop reading, expand your mind, let yourself learn different things, the more you read the more you know, and you’ll learn to value everything you have.” Oh, and he also told me not to date because I’ll lose my focus! I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and now I’m getting ready to read Medium Raw. I’m learning a lot from Bourdain.
  • If you could dine anywhere in the world, where would you go and who would you bring?
    • I would go to Paris and take in the original and traditional flavors of French cuisine. I’d really love to work in a kitchen in Paris; I’d even work for free, just to learn from a great chef. Or, even just to stage for five or six hours in a Parisian kitchen, whatever they would let me do! And, I’d definitely bring my ProStart® team. I would not trade them for the world. When we compete we don’t even talk because we all know what the next move should be.
  • What are your plans after you graduate from North Grand?
    • At first I wanted to go to go the CIA in New York to get out of Chicago. But now, as Chicago’s culinary industry is evolving, I know that I want to stay here to build my career. I would love to attend Washburne Culinary Institute or Kendall College; I’m working hard to make that dream a reality.

Chris currently works in the kitchen at Rick Bayless’s Xoco. The IRAEF has provided Chris with the opportunity to support many of Chicago’s chefs at events such as the James Beard Foundation Awards after party, the IRA’s Chef’s Table Gala and Chicago Gourmet’s Hamburger Hop – where he has worked with the winning chef for the past two years. Maybe he’s a lucky charm, or maybe he’s just that good!

The IRA and the IRA Educational Foundation wishes Chris the best of luck in the upcoming ProStart® Invitational and throughout his culinary career.


Protecting Illinois' Hospitality Industry


The restaurant, hotel, and tourism industries are intimately linked. Whether the IRA is working to restore tourism funding around the state or fighting against increased taxes on hotels, we are advocating for the best interests of the entire hospitality industry in Illinois.

Due to the budget stalemate in Springfield, funding for tourism and convention bureaus like Choose Chicago is currently frozen. That means the city and state are not promoting themselves and all the world-class restaurants, shops, museums, and attractions we have to offer. The IRA is working with a coalition of hospitality associations to urge our state legislators to release tourism funding for Choose Chicago and bureaus around the state.

The IRA has recently contributed to an aggressive advertising campaign aimed at state lawmakers to release $7.2 million dollars in statutorily-mandated funding for Choose Chicago. Read more at Crain's Chicago.

The business community in Cook County also recently stood in opposition to the 1% hotel tax increase in Cook County. IRA President & CEO Sam Toia stressed that the proposed hotel tax increase, in addition to the 1% sales tax increase effective January 1, 2016, would make visiting, touring, and dining in the Chicagoland area less affordable and less appealing to travelers and conventioneers alike. The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the hotel tax increase as a part of the FY 16 budget. The IRA will continue to pursue policies that will encourage economic vitality and vibrant tourism in our region.

Click here to join the advocacy effort and sign a petition urging state lawmakers to restore funding for Illinois’ tourism bureaus throughout the state.

A La Carte

Eurest Dining


Eurest Dining is a year-round supporter of the IRA as a ProStart® employer partner, sponsor of the IRA Educational Foundation Scholarship Program Luncheon, and presenting sponsor of the 2015 Chef's Table. James Kallas, Division President for Eurest and IRA Second Vice Chairman, chaired this year's Chef's Table benefiting the future leaders of Illinois' restaurant and hospitality industry.

The globally recognized Eurest launched in 1996 in the US and provides dining services to local, regional and national companies within the Business & Industry markets, including employee dining centers, on-site catering, vending, executive dining rooms, and other managed services. Eurest is proud to serve the world’s most respected and successful corporations, including many of the Fortune 500.

Eurest is a $1.4 billion food and vending organization with 1935 locations and more than 15,500 associates throughout the US. Eurest serves more than 705,000 customers daily and is a division of NC-based Compass Group North America. Compass Group North America is the leading foodservice management and support services company with $12.8 billion USD in revenues in 2014. With over 506,000 associates worldwide, its parent company, UK-based Compass Group PLC had revenues of $28.4 billion in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014.

Visit to learn more.



Seven Lions


Located on South Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, Seven Lions is positioned within close proximity to museums, theaters and shopping. It is the ideal lunch, brunch, or dinner destination for those who are taking in holiday festivities over the next few months.

Seven Lions is the second project from Master Sommelier and restaurateur Alpana Singh. This past summer, Singh and her Executive Chef Chris Curren employed four ProStart® students. One of the students, Symphony Palmore, a senior at Simeon Career Academy, will be returning to the Seven Lions kitchen this holiday season to help out during what will surely be a busy time at the restaurant.

“I’m really looking forward to gaining more hands-on experience with Chef Curren and his team,” said Palmore. “I love working as a part of a team, and seeing everything come together in a professional kitchen.”

Alpana Singh and Chef Curren always encourage ProStart® students to ask questions, learn from their colleagues in the kitchen, and stay dedicated to their craft.

“I’d have to say the most valuable lesson I've shared with ProStart® students is that the only way to get to the top, and truly have the knowledge and talent it takes to be successful, is to start at the bottom,” said Chef Curren. “You have to know how to do every job in the kitchen and you have to do it better than anyone else. So, start washing dishes and move to prep. Then move to the line. Spend years working the line and perfecting your technique and expanding your knowledge. And, when you finally get to be an executive chef, think about how hard you worked to get there, but understand you are going to have to work even harder now.”

“Having ProStart® students in the kitchen at Seven Lions creates an enormous sense of community in the restaurant,” said Singh. “There's something very hopeful about having young, energetic and bright talent in the kitchen. It's very inspiring to see these young professionals working hard and actively making a better future for themselves. It adds a great energy to the entire establishment and you can't help but smile when you see the students.”

Seven Lions is a modern interpretation of the classic clubhouse restaurant. Whether the occasion calls for getting together over a beer and a burger, negotiating over a power lunch, snacking after sightseeing or celebrating a special night out, Seven Lions offer the perfect ambiance, social energy and everyday fare for a variety of dining experiences.

Stop in to Seven Lions this holiday season and wish Symphony good luck in her culinary career.

Platinum Sponsors


Gold Sponsors


Silver Sponsors


      Quick Links

Hear From Us

Sign up for email updates from the
Illinois Restaurant Association.

Contact Us

33 W. Monroe, Ste 250
Chicago, IL 60603
Toll Free: 800-572-1086
Ph: 312-787-4000
Fax: 312-787-4792


Follow Us

  • Copyright © 2018 Illinois Restaurant Association. All rights reserved.
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal