Pork loin topped with apples, bacon and sage next to a side of buttery red potatoes may seem like a meal fit to eat only in a fancy restaurant. But in reality, this particular repast was created somewhere between ninth grade English class and 11th grade history class.
Here, in the culinary arts kitchen at Wawasee Community High School, students are creating dishes that put the typical teenage delicacies, like Ramen noodles or neon yellow macaroni and cheese, to shame.
Chicken jambalaya, cheddar bacon baked potato chips, yeast breads, Christmas cookies and more delectable fare can be smelled cooking and baking on different days as one walks through the school hallways.
The culinary arts program began at the high school three years ago as part of the career and technical program, and is open to Wawasee students as well as those from Fairfield and West Noble high schools.
For two hours and 15 minutes each school day, juniors and seniors who have taken both Culinary Arts Foundation class and Food and Nutrition class are spending their mornings prepping, chopping, baking, braising, frying, mixing, cooking and learning all things food in the advanced class called Culinary Arts Career Management.
Clad in their chef’s attire and working with professional-grade culinary tools, this is not an old fashioned home ec class. Students are taught culinary techniques by their teacher, Dan Bauer, who came to the high school in order to the start the program after 26 years in the food industry at Quaker Haven Camp in Syracuse.
“Students in the culinary arts program are deciding whether or not it’s their goal to continue in the culinary arts after high school. Even if they decide it’s not their goal, they do enjoy being fed during each class and learn life skills they can use in the future,” Bauer explained.
“They learn basic food theory, cooking and baking basics, earn their ServSafe certification and dual college credit from Ivy Tech. We start the year with learning to follow recipes and by the third trimester, they are provided with ingredients to create their own recipes. We go through a wide gamut of foods, from yeast breads to soups to meats.”
This past summer, an old study hall room was converted into a state of the art kitchen to be used by the culinary arts program. In addition to ample counter space and an array of kitchen gadgets, students have access to professional-grade kitchen items like a convection oven. With a wall of windows at one end of the room, Bauer says he enjoys how other students can view their culinary peers hard at work in the kitchen during the passing periods.
Students are in the kitchen two days per week and spend another two days in the school cafeteria learning and helping prepare food for their peers on a larger scale.
For student Sara Christner, time spent in this program is preparing her to reach her goal of someday opening her own restaurant. Christner has a binder full of recipes she has prepared in class, with her favorites being quiches and soufflés.
“We make every recipe twice. Once to get the hang of it, and once to perfect it and get a grade. There’s a lot more to reading a recipe than I first realized. We have learned a lot of culinary terms like ‘scant,’ ‘dice’ and ‘mince,’” she said.
Legend Laramore is not sure he will continue in the culinary arts field after high school, but he enjoys working with food in the meantime nonetheless.
“I’ve learned a lot about food presentation in addition to prep,” said Laramore, “and some neat skills like flipping an omelet in the skillet. The biggest things I’ve learned is self control and safety in the kitchen and the importance of reading through recipes. If you don’t read carefully, your food won’t come out right. Without self-control, you could contaminate your food.”
“If they’re thinking about pursuing the culinary arts in the future, this is a great place to begin,” said Bauer. “It’s a great hands-on experience and my students are never bored.”
The community is invited to an open house of the culinary arts kitchen from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18. The culinary arts students will be cooking and offering food for sampling.