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Students show off cooking skills with meal
Martinsville High School junior Clayton D. Baker (front), who said he wants to be a chef, flips a steak while classmate Michael Mitchell, also a junior, grills chicken in the culinary arts class at Patrick Henry Community College’s Artisan Center. The students cooked for a luncheon for school officials last week. (Contributed photos)
Culinary arts students from Martinsville High School showed off their skills with a luncheon for school officials last week.
This was the students’ first opportunity to cook for people outside of their class, which is a dual enrollment course for college credit offered through Patrick Henry Community College. About 50 Martinsville High School students are learning everything from food safety to proper knife techniques this semester in the commercial kitchen of PHCC’s Artisan Center.
Up from 21 students last year, “this year, the enrollment has exploded,” Chef Bob Koester said.
Koester said the three classes had done so well this semester that they wanted to invite guests from PHCC and Martinsville City Public Schools to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“This class of students is so good, we wanted to show them off,” he said. “We’re really excited about it.”
Students served artfully arranged hors d’oeuvres, such as shrimp skewers and vegetable phyllo cups, and a choice of grilled chicken or steak on top of a mixed green salad. Under the tutelage of Chef Colleen Butker, whose specialty is baking and desserts, students baked bread and iced gingerbread cookies from scratch to round out the meal.
“I feel like I’m at a restaurant,” said Angilee Downing, Martinsville’s assistant superintendent for instruction. “The students were very professional. The service was excellent, and the food was outstanding.” She added that she was pleased to see that “the food was very health-conscious,” as well.
Serving an upscale meal for 25 adults is a “real-world project,” Downing said. “This really aligns with what we’re doing with authentic learning,” which means having students address relevant, real-life issues in class.
To complete the feel of a real restaurant, seniors TaCara Cunningham, Jaquan Schmidt, Keyonia Burgess and April Hairston worked as waitstaff – greeting guests, taking drink orders and serving food.
“I learned you need to dress appropriately. You have to always be nice,” Keyonia said.
“Keep a smile on your face,” said TaCara.
In the kitchen, TaCara said, they learned, “You have to watch out for cross-contamination,” which is the transfer of bacteria to a food item. Contamination can happen by using the same cutting board, knives, or kitchen tools for different foods without washing them in between, or handling food without washing your hands first. “Personal hygiene is a very big part of cooking,” TaCara added.
Junior Monifah Green was part of the team of students who assembled the colorful mixed salads.
“We learned to cut the professional way,” with the tip of the knife touching the cutting board, she said. For the presentation, she said, “Make sure everything is in the middle of the plate.”
“You’ve got to have a little creativity” with how you arrange the food, said senior India Muse, who also helped with the salads. However, “the main thing is to make it taste good.”
Kelsey Connor, a junior, said she likes the class because “We get to learn new techniques.”
One trick they have learned is how to properly ice a cake and use fondant, said senior Sarah Draper. “If you let [the icing] sit, it gets hard. You have to keep working with it,” Sarah said.
“You’ve really got to be patient with it,” Kelsey added.
Michael Mitchell was in charge of seasoning and grilling the chicken breasts. The challenge is “to try to grill it all the way without burning it. You have to make sure it’s cooked all the way by cutting it at the thickest part.”
Michael came into the class with some experience cooking at home with his mother. “She cooks a lot of various dishes,” he said. “I just like doing it for fun.” He said he enjoys “learning new techniques” and “cooking and eating.”
Several Culinary Arts students have expressed interest in becoming chefs, Koester said.
However, even if they do not pursue cooking as a career, "They’re learning college and career-readiness skills" in the class, Downing said, such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, and etiquette.