Ap­petite grow­ing for culi­nary pro­gram

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - GWEN­DOLYN RICHARDS

A cir­cle of stu­dents dressed in chef jack­ets peer into the fry­ing pan where chicken breasts are siz­zling. A few steps away, an­other group is learn­ing how to wind dough into pret­zels.

Over it all, the smell of cook­ies bak­ing in the oven fills the room.

It’s an­other morn­ing in the culi­nary pro­gram at Bishop McNally High School and the class­room and ad­ja­cent cafe­te­ria kitchen are hum­ming with ac­tiv­ity.

Now, a cou­ple of weeks later, classes have come to an end for an­other scholas­tic year, but in those fi­nal days, the stu­dents in the high school’s culi­nary arts pro­gram were still slic­ing, dic­ing, cook­ing and serv­ing up healthy food to their fel­low stu­dents.

A third of the school’s pop­u­la­tion is en­rolled at some level in the pro­gram and de­mand is so great that teach­ers are look­ing at cre­at­ing af­ter-school cour­ses in the fall to ac­com­mo­date all those who want to take part. This year, there are 400 stu­dents in the four lev­els — in­tro­duc­tory, intermedia­te, ad­vanced and ap­pren­tice. Next year, that will go to 450, says chef Rob Hen­drick­son, who is one of three chef in­struc­tors in the pro­gram.

“We’ve phys­i­cally run out of space,” he says.

To chef Justin McCallum, who pitched the culi­nary arts pro­gram to of­fi­cials at the Cal­gary Catholic School District in 2007, watch­ing it grow has been ex­cit­ing and en­cour­ag­ing.

“The stu­dents want to be there,” he says. “To me, this is what ed­u­ca­tion is. It gives stu­dents op­tions which we should be giv­ing them; the more op­tions we give them, the more po­ten­tial they have.”

He did not an­tic­i­pate, though, the rip­ple ef­fect in the district.

“It’s ex­tremely pop­u­lar,” says Don Sum­mers­gill, who over­sees the Ca­reers and Tech­nol­ogy Stu­dents pro­gram for the district. “When it started at McNally, it was in­stantly very pop­u­lar. Stu­dents flocked to it.”

The ap­petite for the pro­gram is so strong, that the school district has ex­panded the pro­gram to other schools. Bishop Grandin’s culi­nary pro­gram is al­ready up and run­ning, while a new one at Notre Dame will be open to stu­dents in the fall. Fa­ther La­combe will start of­fer­ing cour­ses in Septem­ber 2015, fol­low­ing ren­o­va­tions next sum­mer.

“As other high schools heard about it, they wanted to see it at their school,” says Sum­mers­gill.

Through the pro­gram, stu­dents learn the ba­sics of cook­ing, as well as work­ing in a kitchen that is equiv­a­lent in size to a mid-size ho­tel. As they ro­tate through the dif­fer­ent stages — from cook­ing soups and sauces to han­dling meat — they make meals for the school’s two food es­tab­lish­ments. Even those not tak­ing the cour­ses ben­e­fit by hav­ing ac­cess to af­ford­able, healthy food op­tions.

Be­sides learn­ing life­long skills, the pro­gram ed­u­cates stu­dents on what food should look like and what their ex­pec­ta­tion should be for qual­ity food.

Ev­ery­thing is brought in from scratch and made in-house. Stu­dents learn how to break down chick­ens and hips of beef, make bread and whip up sauces.

They also cater events and, each quar­ter, cook and serve a din­ner to their fam­i­lies, teach­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers. These term din­ners — menus have in­cluded dishes like duck leg con­fit, pan-seared foie gras and mush­room tar­tine, and house-made laven­der and honey ice cream — are an op­por­tu­nity for the stu­dents to show­case their skills and tal­ents, says Hen­drick­son.

“It’s amaz­ing to see the amount of pride they put into their work.”

Al­though most don’t go on to have ca­reers in the culi­nary world, a hand­ful of stu­dents take the ap­pren­tice level and can chal­lenge the first year of post-sec­ondary pro­grams by earn­ing a min­i­mum of 70 per cent on their ap- pren­tice­ship ex­ams.

That’s Ky­lan Labrador’s plan; she will by­pass the first year of the three-year pro­gram at Red Deer Col­lege if she gets the marks.

The culi­nary classes helped her see how she wants her ca­reer to un­fold.

“It’s a great place to re­al­ize this is what you want to do,” she says.

Vyvyan Huynh, a Grade 12 stu­dent from Fa­ther La­combe who took the cour­ses at Bishop McNally through the Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence pro­gram, won gold at the Cal­gary com­pe­ti­tion for Skills Canada with what she learned through the pro­gram.

Ideally, she says, she wants to work for the Fair­mont Pal­liser or a larger ho­tel so she can get more hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore even­tu­ally get­ting her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion so she can teach other stu­dents how to cook.

“I like the cre­ativ­ity,” she says. “It’s end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

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