A two-year accredited high school course, ProStart invites students with an interest in the culinary industry to try out for a team that provides real-life experience with an educational foundation, and tests their abilities on a state and national level. The students work after school, honing the skills required in a professional kitchen. They also plan and practice serving a three-course meal in under an hour, with only a couple of Butane burners to get them through it. The students only have the school year to prep, so for a group of juniors and seniors from Cumming, Ga. to place third and second, in both 2014 and 2015, amidst more than 50 teams from around the world, is impressive, to say the least.

Soaking up Flavor

The secret recipe to the South Forsyth High School team’s success was in large part to its mentor –one of only 69 Certified Master Chefs in the country and someone who spent eight years travelling with the U.S. National Culinary Team. Shortly after his daughters started high school Master Chef Derin Moore walked into an open house for the culinary program, after having relocated his family from Naples, Fl., where he was the esteemed Executive Chef for The Ritz-Carlton’s flagship resort. He approached the ProStart table where the program’s teacher, dietician Dawn Martin, remembered being overwhelmed by his offer to help.

“You cannot imagine how excited I was for someone of that caliber to volunteer his time and talents,” she said. “We did not have a mentor at the time and I was wondering if we would be able to compete.”

They did more than just compete. Moore, who had a 9-to-5 job for the first time in years, was excited to be involved and worked four months, sometimes four nights a week with the students, even on Saturdays. They built their own refrigerators, practiced knife skills and learned how to move as a team in the kitchen.

“Teachers have always been taught not to allow students to call the chef. We were to gather questions and then send them to him at one time,” Martin said. “The first thing Chef did was give the students his number. He said, ‘Text me questions, your grocery list, your pictures of when you practice individually.’ This helped the students develop a unique relationship with him. He could encourage from afar with pictures, funny comments and bring them in line before practice ever started.”

“These kids were sponges,” Moore said. “The stuff they were able to accomplish, they had no idea how extraordinary it was, because they didn’t know any better. But, when they saw other teams putting their food up, the light bulb went on.”

Both teams during Moore’s tenure as mentor won their state competitions and competed nationally. Several decided to pursue careers in the culinary industry – one winning a four-year scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu and three others attending The Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Stocking the Kitchen

Moore began working at Reynolds Lake Oconee as the Executive Chef in 2015. Although he wasn’t able to continue his work as the ProStart team’s mentor, he stays in touch with his former students. In fact, one student, Jisun Ham, completed an externship under Chef Moore after finishing her first year at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Ham, after working at Reynolds with Chef Moore , said -he didn't only teach her how to cook, “He molded me to become a better future chef. He taught me to trust myself.”

A Master Plan

That’s exactly why a lot of new chefs choose to work for Moore, who credits his own love for cooking to his grandfather.

In fact, it was his grandfather who took him on his first visit to The CIA when he was young. Less than a year after high school, he moved to New York to start his training there. He spent the next decade in fine dining restaurants learning the fundamentals of cooking, how business works and how to make money without sacrificing quality. He travelled with the U.S. Culinary Olympic team around the world, learning foreign cuisine as well as discovering regional specialties here.

That included visits to Germany, Scotland and Switzerland, recruiting for The Ritz-Carlton in South Africa, opening one in Shanghai and teaching over 40 international students in Naples.

And now, home and settled at Reynolds Lake Oconee, he’s looking forward to continuing expanding and enhancing the cuisine of the community’s ten dining facilities.

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