Culinary Arts program provides recipe for success

Dover High culinary arts instructor Trina Stump shows first-year culinary students Destiny Perez and Hector Velez how to sift the dry ingredients for their pancake recipe. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Dover High culinary arts instructor Trina Stump shows first-year culinary students Destiny Perez and Hector Velez how to sift the dry ingredients for their pancake recipe. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

DOVER — A new school program is exploding all over the state and nation, not only adding some fun to students’ days, but giving them more options after high school graduation — culinary arts.

“We have some great culinary programs in schools in Delaware and they provide a great opportunity for students because the restaurant business is one of the biggest employers in the state and one in four Americans have worked in food service at one point in their lives,” said Rita Hovermale, education associate of Career & Technical Education at the Delaware Department of Education.

To make the state’s culinary programs as successful as possible, many schools are now participating in The National Restaurant Association’s ProStart program, a standardized culinary curriculum.
Nationally, 1,700 schools and 118,000 students participate ProStart. Dover, Polytech and Seaford are only a few of the Delaware high schools following the curriculum.

Dover High culinary instructor Trina Stump shows A’Ezra Smith how to more evenly chop vegetables. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Dover High culinary instructor Trina Stump shows A’Ezra Smith how to more evenly chop vegetables. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Trina Stump, one of two culinary instructors at Dover High said there are usually two kinds of kids who enroll in the culinary program that currently has 300 students — those who want to better their kitchen skills and those who want to pursue a career in the restaurant business.

The ProStart curriculum starts out in the classroom with the basics of the restaurant business like sanitation, safety, proper food storage (both temperature and location) and basic measuring techniques.

After the first year, students already have an upper hand on others competing restaurant jobs because they already have training in safety and sanitation, skills that most new restaurant employees have no experience in.

“We require the students to keep our kitchen up to professional kitchen standards in every sense from cleanliness to appropriate food storage,” Ms. Stump said. “They know to treat class like a real restaurant so when they make the transition to work, it’s something that should come naturally. Their employers won’t need to spend the time teaching them these important lessons.”

Third year student A’Ezra Smith works at a fast-food restaurant and said unlike the other new employees, when he was hired he was able to skip some of the orientation since he already had been trained through school.

For the newbies in Dover High’s program, Oct. 19 was the first day in the kitchen. The assignment for the 90-minute class was to cook pancakes from scratch in teams of three.

“The best part of the job for me is exposing students to new things that can unlock many possibilities for them,” said Ernest Hudson, Ms. Stump’s fellow culinary instructor at Dover High. He was helping the first-year students get started with their recipes.

“Some of these kids have never cooked before or only made the most basic recipes so it’s fun to see them learn and grow.”

Jordan MaGee, Destiny Perez and Hector Velez worked together on their pancakes and each was there for a different reason.

Jordan wants to learn how to cook, Destiny wants to eventually become a professional chef and Hector wants to improve his skills to be a better cook for himself and his family.

Treyvon Barrineau, a culinary arts student at Dover High practices chopping vegetables that will be used in a vegetable soup as part of a unit focusing on soups, stocks and sauces. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Treyvon Barrineau, a culinary arts student at Dover High practices chopping vegetables that will be used in a vegetable soup as part of a unit focusing on soups, stocks and sauces. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

The three mixed the ingredients together, all learning how to sift dry ingredients for the first time, and eventually headed over to the grill. They made rows of pancakes as uniformly as possible and determined the perfect time to flip them and take them off the grill.

“We start out with basic recipes using the measuring techniques and ingredient identification they learned in the classroom,” Mr. Hudson said. “And we also use low-cost recipes at the beginning and move up to more expensive food as they become more experienced.”

Preparing for the future

“We hope the program helps kids either get their foot in the door for the restaurant business or college programs whether it be at the University of Delaware, Delaware State or Delaware Tech,” Ms. Stump said.

Ms. Hovermale said students will be able to easily transition into a two- or four-year collegiate culinary program.

“These programs give the kids options. They can pursue a degree or get right into business and secure employment after high school graduation,” she said.

College and full-time work still may be a long way off for the Dover students, many of whom are freshmen, but the program’s second and third years are mostly juniors and seniors, already planning their futures.

“My dad is a chef so I always see him cooking and my grandmom is from the South so she’s always cooking, too,” Treyvon Barrineau, a third-year culinary student, said. “So I’ve always wanted to learn to be a good cook like them and hopefully I’ll be able to become a full-time chef.”

Treyvon and his classmates were working on knife skills while the first-year students were making pancakes in a different section of the kitchen, built large enough to accommodate multiple classes simultaneously.

While slicing and dicing various vegetables, the students also focused on cutting each to a uniform size so the veggies would cook evenly in a vegetable soup as part of a unit focused on stocks, soups and sauces.

Teachers have observed that some culinary arts students like Treyvon and some of his classmates are shy and don’t like participating in class but once they get into the kitchen, they are pulled out of their shells.

“I love seeing a student that may typically have trouble in a classroom situation or may just be really quiet but they walk into the kitchen and a different side of them comes out and they really excel,” Ms. Stump said.

Jordan MaGee, Hector Velez and Destiny Perez cook their pancakes during their first kitchen assignment as culinary art students at Dover High. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

Jordan MaGee, Hector Velez and Destiny Perez cook their pancakes during their first kitchen assignment as culinary art students at Dover High. (Delaware State News/Ashton Brown)

One of the best parts about cooking in the class, even if it is something as simple as pancakes from scratch or a vegetable soup, is eating the completed product, and all the students seemed please with the outcome of their first recipe.

“I think being able to eat the food is one thing that makes the programs so popular,” Ms. Hovermale said.

“Teenagers love food so there are kids who come for the food and we hope they develop a love of cooking, too.”

The ProStart Program isn’t just about preparing students to become kitchen employees and chefs, it also builds skills in restaurant management to provide even more options in the future. Through their second and thirds years, culinary students learn about the business aspects of a restaurant and even restaurant management.

“After the foundations are laid in the schools, the students can take their knowledge wherever they want and will have an advantage in advancing their careers to management positions if they choose,” Ms. Hovermale said.

“Now I’m starting at the bottom, working in fast food, but through this program and maybe college after graduation I could go on to be a chef or maybe eventually own my own restaurant or restaurant supply business,” A’Ezra said. “It’s also fun in class to get better and better at each of the skills we work on.”

As Dover High becomes more involved in Pro Star, Ms. Stump said she hopes the school’s program will rival that of technical schools in the state and their progress will be put to the test in March.

Every year ProStart holds a statewide competition where students from each school’s culinary arts program are given the challenge of creating a three-course meal using only two butane burners with a time limit of one hour.
The dishes are judged and awards and given to the students with the best execution. The competition awards thousands of dollars in scholarship money every year.

This spring will be the first ProStart competition Dover High students have participated in and Ms. Stump is counting on her students to bring home the bacon.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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