Culinary Arts gives students taste of the real world

February 10, 2012

How’s this for a classroom project: prepare a dozen different appetizers for a special event, present and serve the appetizers, and stay under budget. Oh, and make enough to feed 1,000 people.

For students in the Marshall High School Culinary Arts program, no sweat. Okay, maybe a little.

The Culinary Arts students pulled off the most challenging real-world assignment of their young careers, wowing everyone who attended the Northside PTA Founders Day celebration at Marshall earlier this month.

Marshall-HS-Culinary-Arts-150

The day before the Founders Day event, the Marshall High School kitchen is organized chaos. One student is defrosting 75 pounds of shrimp for the shrimp cocktail and another is carefully slicing pan after pan of espresso chocolate treats into triangles, while a half-dozen students dice mozzarella cheese and tomatoes that will soon be assembled into caprese tortellini bites.

“It’s all fast-paced and energetic,” senior Natalie Flores says. “It’s great.”

Maintaining calm is Chef B.J. Salter, or just “Salter,” as her students call her.

“We’re getting down to the nitty gritty,” says Salter, who has been leading the Marshall Culinary Arts program for the last three years. “Work smarter, not harder.”

Marshall-HS-Culinary-Arts-030

The Culinary Arts program is offered at all of NISD’s comprehensive high schools through Career & Technology Education. The goal of the Culinary Arts program – and all Career Tech classes – is to provide students with marketable skills that will make them successful in the workforce and college.

Salter said about half of her students go on to pursue a career in the culinary field at well-respected programs like the Culinary Institute of America, St. Philip’s College, and Johnson & Wales University.

But no matter their career choice, students will learn skills that will help them in whatever field they choose, Salter said. Cooking food requires knowledge of science and chemistry; figuring out yields and amounts of ingredients requires math; and students even get a social studies lesson when they cook foods from other cultures.

Students also learn about the importance of visual presentation and the business side of food preparation. Perhaps most importantly, students learn about teamwork and trust.

Marshall-HS-Culinary-Arts-135

“Working as one helps us stay on top of things,” says senior Keegan Talbert, who hopes to attend the culinary program at either St. Philip’s or Johnson & Wales. “I trust everybody in this room.”

Flores said she wants to be an English teacher or a lawyer but joined the Culinary Arts program so that she could learn how to cook and survive in college. She didn’t even know how to boil spaghetti, she admits. Now, she can filet a fish.

It’s so much better than I expected,” she said. “I love this program.”

The students’ passion is evident in the quality of the food they prepare and the time commitment they make to the program. It’s not unusual for students to show up in the kitchen at 7 a.m. – almost two hours before school starts – ready to cook.

“I have to force them to go to their classes,” Salter says.

Any student who is interested in the Culinary Arts program at his or her school can contact the Culinary Arts instructor or counselor.