People often ask me what it’s like to work in a large, fast-paced commercial kitchen with teenagers. They seem fascinated with the notion that high school students would be able to complete the work needed to produce hundreds of nutritionally complex meals everyday. They also seem a bit surprised when I explain how successful the program is, and how much fun we have while doing it! If you’ve ever eaten (or observed) lunch at a different district, you may have noticed it is done a little differently than at Corbett. Food generally comes in packages. It is easy to prepare. It is repetitive. Well, things couldn’t be more opposite at the top of the hill.
It’s just another way Corbett sets itself apart and dares to be different.
At Corbett we have 50 students enrolled in the culinary program. They each spend an hour in the kitchen everyday helping in the meticulous process of making school snack and lunch. They wear many hats – whether it be preparing, cooking, serving, cleaning, organizing or stocking food. The menu rotation consists of over 30 different main courses and, with the help of Erika Pace (food service manager) and myself (culinary arts teacher), the students make and serve over 500 meals a day. On top of all this, culinary students learn 16 units of classroom material – ranging from Safety & Sanitation to Foodservice Regulations to Pies & Pastries. They take comprehensive exams, obtain Food Handler Permits, complete take-home lab work and do independent study projects. Needless to say, culinary students are busy!
I’ve always felt as though there were two parts to my program. There is the part everyone sees – the lunch they are served each day (consisting of a full salad bar, three main dish options and two sides). Then there is the part that is rarely seen – the innumerable little things that go into running a food service operation. These create the behind-the-scenes breakthroughs and achievements that my students probably think I don’t even notice. Those are the special moments when I witness these amazing kids gaining life-skills and subsequent confidence in who they are becoming as young adults.
These moments can occur at anytime. They can happen when a student works hard to complete a complicated recipe and then takes pride when serving it to their peers. When a student realizes there is only two minutes of class-time left, and works extra hard to break down more than twenty boxes for recycling because they now understand this is an essential step in the foodservice process. It can also occur when I watch a student become extremely proud because they just broke their own record of washing 250 dishes in less than 45 minutes. One of my favorite moments, however, comes when a student accidentally messes up a recipe (it happens to all of us!) and stays late to redo the entire dish because they know exactly who is going to be enjoying that same food later in the day.
Whatever the situation, it is very apparent that Culinary Arts teaches essential life-skills. It also provides students with a chance to work in a demanding, hands-on, interactive environment. They must learn quickly and act fast. The results have been extremely positive and truly a joy to watch. I honestly cannot count how many times a student of mine has made dinner for their family (usually for the first time) and explained to me how they utilized their newly found skills to impress the ones they love. The satisfaction is written all over their face, and accurately reflects why this program is so special and unique.
Frozen food set on timers all day? Not at Corbett. We do things a little differently around here.