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Porter Ridge High School culinary students cooking up success

Chef Elaine Templeton, the Porter Ridge High School Culinary Academy’s instructor, second from left, works with students in preparing for the academy's open house, held Jan. 8, 2015. Also pictured, from left, is Megan Murray, Stephanie Short, and Martin Fregoso, all 18-year-old seniors. (Below) Stephanie Short, 18, at right, and Alexis Garcia, 17, both seniors, prepare cupcakes. (Bottom) Hallie Gaskill, 18, prepares to place items in the ovens.

Students in Porter Ridge High School’s Culinary Academy are getting real-world experience, which should help them attain a career in the field of culinary arts.

Chef Elaine Templeton, the academy’s instructor, explained that the academy is made up of three classes: Intro to Culinary Arts; Culinary I; and Culinary II. Classes are limited to 20 students. Each week, students are assigned a specific duty and those change weekly.

Students learn everything from wait staff skills – how to handle a buffet line, meeting clients and being able to properly serve a plate – to actual food prep duties and the culinary skills needed to have a successful kitchen.

Templeton recently held an open house and invited parents and local dignitaries to show off the academy’s expertise. From the comments made during the event, apparently students are learning their skills quite well.

“When we have an event like this, students don’t believe we can get it done,” Templeton said. “When they see it on the table, it’s a huge confidence boost. Then to get the affirmation from the people they are serving, the kids just light up.”

Most of the students in the academy plan to go to culinary arts school after high school, while others simply hope to learn cooking skills for their personal use.

Stephanie Short, an 18-year-old senior, just applied to Johnson and Wales University where she plans to pursue a culinary arts degree.

“I actually didn’t have any plans to go to college until I started this program and now I’m dead set on culinary,” Short said. “That’s what I want to do with my life. I hope to open a small bakery or a restaurant.”

Short said she enjoys culinary arts so much that it’s more like a hobby than a job. “I like the artistic side of it and the fact that you get to taste and experience difference flavors. It’s pretty cool.”

The hands-on aspect of the culinary classes is what Short most enjoys. “We actually get to experience how to cook and how we would do it in the real world.”

One perk of the classes is that students are able to attain a national board certification called Serve Safe, which lasts for five years.

“It’s a very difficult exam,” Templeton said. “This will carry them through their college years, so if they wanted to get a culinary job during college, they could.”

As the academy is self-sustaining, so students supplement the class finances by preparing and then selling cakes and take-out meals to staff at the school. All money earned goes back into the program.

“We could not run a culinary arts program with the ($1,000 annual) budget we get from the state,” Templeton said. “There is no way. I spend more than $200 a week on groceries alone.”

Templeton said working with the cost aspect of the culinary program is part of the students’ education. “They know exactly how much money is in our account and how much we spend. All of that is part of their education. They’re learning how to turn a profit.”

Templeton has also had faculty at the school donate groceries to the academy, including paper goods.

Faculty and staff at both Porter Ridge High and Middle schools take advantage of the student’s culinary skills. The academy has been hired to cater faculty meetings and other staff events at both schools.

“We’re not allowed to serve the student body, but the faculty has been tremendous in supporting us,” Templeton said.

The first time the class prepared lunch for the faculty, students allowed staff to do pre-orders. “There was a line down the hall of people who had not pre-ordered,” Templeton said. “The faculty is always asking us, ‘Are we eating this week?’ We can’t keep up with the orders.”

Holidays are especially successful. At Thanksgiving, students made pound cakes and other sweet delicacies. “We took pre-orders and sold out in 24 hours,” Templeton said.

As the academy does not have health inspections, it cannot cater for the general public. The commercial kitchen was placed in the school last summer and with anticipated changes in the kitchen, the classes may be able to offer catering to the community at large in the near future.

“There have to be some changes to the kitchen before we can be health inspected and hopefully that will happen this summer,” Templeton said.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Jan 12, 2015 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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