HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Managing a restaurant and running the kitchen are two different things. On Thursday, high school students from across the state competed to do just that. The teams are already top-rated in the state.

Culinary is more than restaurants, especially in 2022. Gas burners, dry racks, and groceries were the only items onset and the stage was Yard Goats Stadium.

The pressure was on for a handful of high school teams competing in the 16th annual CT ProStart Invitational.

“We have an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. Our appetizer is a pan-seared red snapper. Our entrée is a chicken, and the dessert a mango,” said Daisy Galicia, Wilbur Cross High School junior.

You can see and smell the culinary competition. Restaurant management teams are being judged behind the scenes on their presentations. The judges are some of the most renowned chefs and restauranteurs from across Connecticut.

There’s a lot on the line. The winners of the competitions will win scholarships to some of the top culinary institutes.

“This is one of my favorite days of the year and obviously it’s been two years since we’ve had it. It was a week before the pandemic hit, we were in Gateway having this competition. To be back puts us full circle,” said Scott Dolch, President of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.

The event is sponsored by Connecticut’s Hospitality Educational Foundation and Restaurant Association. Winners will go to Washington, D.C. to compete for a national title in May. Educator Nathaniel Bradshaw credits the competitions with building up the culinary program at New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School.

“I remember ten years ago when I started at Wilbur Cross High School, we had very, very low numbers. Right now, we have close to 200 students in the program,” Bradshaw said.

Now it’s inspiring Bradshaw’s students to pursue careers in an industry that’s still some 19,000 jobs short amid the pandemic.

“He said that he saw something in me like talent, so I wasn’t really convinced at first, but at the time I just decided to convince myself because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Galicia said.