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Home News-Telegram News NEIGHBORS: A Taste for the Arts — Culinary Arts classes at SSHS prepare students for food industry

NEIGHBORS: A Taste for the Arts — Culinary Arts classes at SSHS prepare students for food industry

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Sulphur Springs High School recently opened its new commercial kitchen — just in time to meet the culinary arts department’s growing needs — to cater to others and compete in cooking competitions.

Instructor Nancy Reese said the program has continued to expand since she returned to teaching in 2008, reflecting an interest among the general population for fine food and for people to prepare and serve it. The program’s ultimate goal would be to make it possible for students interested in pursuing a career in culinary arts to receive credit toward or prepare them to step right from the SSHS class to an accredited culinary program after graduation — maybe even help them get a job.

“When I started, I never thought there’d be a network. Now there’s more than one food network,” Reese said. “Not everyone can be Rachel Ray or the like, but it’s an option out there. People are eating out of the home more often. I don’t see that declining. We eat out more."

It’s also the result of a “big shift” in state curriculum. Previously, under Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum, culinary classes fell under the science departments. Students could opt for a semester of food science; seniors could make it their fourth science, too, if needed to meet the 4x4 science requirement.

There are currently about 75 students enrolled overall in the culinary arts program, 40 in the lower level classes and about 35 in upper level culinary arts and practicum classes.

This year is a first in many ways for the culinary arts department. It’s the first time culinary arts practicum has been offered. It’s also the year the school board budgeted for a commercial kitchen for the class, the first time they’ll get to go to competition and the first time they’re able to offer catering services. Reese said initially it was thought the necessary items for the kitchen would have to be purchased and constructed in parts for funding reasons.

"We are awfully blessed. We thought we'd have to do it piece by piece. But the superintendent, Mr. [Michael] Lamb talked to the board and saw that it was funded this year. We moved in the week after Christmas.The convenience of it having what we need and when we need them makes it so much easier,” Reese said.

Five classes are currently offered through the hospitality and tourism program — under which culinary arts falls, according to the SSHS course description guide: half a credit for principals of hospitality and tourism, open to ninth and 10th graders; half credit for lifetime nutrition and wellness open to any student who is a sophomore or higher; a full credit for restaurant management, for ninth-10th graders; two credits for culinary arts, 11th-12th graders; and two credits, practicum in culinary arts, 11th-12th graders.

Students who knock out principles of hospitality and tourism and lifetime nutrition as a sophomore can take the restaurant management class. They have to on paper and sandwich board create a restaurant business, name it, create a marketing plan, menu, draw up a floor plan, decide whether to finance renovations versus rent, and take into consideration laws that govern restaurants and independent health laws.

"Eighty percent of high school students will work in some kind of food area. Most are 16-to-18, and those are the jobs they are old enough to get.” Reese said. “Our classes can prepare them for food service. We offer Texas certificate for food handling. Serving safe is an art. If they receive a food job, they are trained in and can train other employees on proper handling. Hopefully, they'll take the class and run with it.”

As a junior, students can then take culinary arts, and in practicum as a senior they can take part in the "restaurant" at the school and catering. About 20 enrolled in the culinary arts class at the first of the year and about seven are in the practicum class this semester — “the ones really focusing on making it a career. We’re expecting to have a good 10 to 17 next year,” Reese said.

Thanks to double-blocking of classes this year, most advanced students can take the practicum, prepping during the first block and cooking in the next. Previously, they had to prep and cook in 47-minute class periods, Reese explained. Those whose classes do not align with the double block can now prep, go to their other class and come back later in the day to cook or continue their work.

One of the projects the students participate in is cake decorating. The students figure out a design, make the cake and put the icing and design on. This is where, in the past, the culinary arts students — especially the "bakers" of the group" — got to show off what they've learned and their creative sides. Some of the cake themes have included Mardi Gras, a castle, puzzle pieces, a "burger and side of fries" and a sports cake. At a rate of two layers per cake, the class composes 32-36 layers of cake per week, then assemble, ice and decorate. Each Friday, the cakes are judged and then served for $1 a slice to help cover cost of expenses.

"They come up with the top three, then one. Each class does theirs and submits it," Reese explained.

But don't think baking cakes is as far as the culinary arts class delves. They also prepare meals complete with entrees, appetizers, side dishes and desserts — a little bit of everything.

"They are getting ready for competition. They have to do three different menus. When they get there, they'll have to do one," Reese noted of the FCCLA competition the advanced students will continue to practice for until the end of February. “They have to do an appetizer or soup, a main entree, at least two sides and dessert from scratch. They provide the food and tell you the menu. You have to take all your utensils. If you need tongs to serve, you have to have tongs. They do two servings, one to taste by the judges and one plated for presentation."

This will be the first team to compete in Irving at the regional contest, where they'll have 30 minutes to get their ingredients together and prep, then one hour to cook their full meal and dish it up. There'll be three students on the SSHS team competing. They'll be in full uniform, be observed for sanitation practices, time as well as taste and texture of food, and how well its plated.

"It's definitely a science. They try, adjust, if they didn't get it the right temperature, they fix it. A lot of it's trial and error. They have to practice doing it," Reese noted

That's why the new kitchen was so vital — to properly prepare and have the tools needed for all of the culinary arts projects. Until this semester when the project was finished, the culinary students had been sharing a small kitchen area with Belinda Brown's food service class, which teaches her students how to serve in a more café-style setting. The best they could hope to fit in those small ovens at a time was a half sheet pan — if that. 

The new kitchen includes four commercial-sized ovens allowing for cooking of several full pans of food at a time. There’s also a convection oven; a small pantry to store ingredients and cooking equipment when not in use; an ice machine; preparation sinks; a vent system like in a regulation restaurant; commercial oven with six burners on stove top; a Salamander for hot plates and to melt cheese; a huge griddle; a fryer so students who work in fast food industry will know how to fry items; a convection oven with five racks; a two-fridge loaded freezer; a proofing cabinet to hold full-sized pans loaded with food at the proper temperature until ready to serve; a Hobart 20-quart mixer with paddles and hooks; a baking rack to store flour and sugars in; shelving where students can store books, keeping the prep tables free for working and meeting health standards; and a mud sink.

With the new kitchen, the students are also able to offer some catering services this year. The first meal cooked in the new kitchen (before they had it fully organized) was the meal trustees enjoyed at their January school board meeting. The practicum students prepared an entire meal — pork tenderloin, broccoli and rice, glazed carrots, a fruit salad, a roll and Italian creme cake — in their new space. Then, with help of Reese and family and consumer science teacher Belinda Brown, they loaded it up, drove it to the administrative building and served the board to show their thanks for the kitchen during School Board Appreciation Month.

They followed that meal up with three catering jobs over the last week, one Saturday and one each Monday and Tuesday. They anticipate catering small luncheons. By the end of the month, the students are expected to have developed a menu and prepared enough to be able to cater events for 30 to 330 people, depending on needs and selections.

This helps students who are interested in going into a culinary field grow their portfolio, adding each new skill and project as they master them.

Middle schools students will also get a taste of culinary arts classes and other career and technology education opportunities during a program at the school. This lets eighth graders know what CTE classes are available at SSHS, allowing those interested in the program to incorporate the classes into their schedules.




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