WEST HAVEN, Conn. – West Haven High School offers a comprehensive, hands-on culinary arts program for students who are interested in the food services industry. The program is spearheaded by Dana Kent, a Family and Consumer Science Teacher, who graduated from Johnson and Wales in 1984 with a degree in Food Service Management. Kent has worked in restaurants and bakeries prior to working in the corporate and campus divisions with Aramark Corporation, for over 19 years.
There are three courses within the Culinary Arts program designed to give students experience working in real-world restaurant scenarios. The program begins with Introduction to Foods, a semester-long course that teaches students the principles of food and nutrition while working in the new, state-of-the-art kitchen.
“The kitchen is fantastic because it exposes students to a high-grade commercial kitchen,” said Kent.
During Introduction to Foods, students also learn to prepare simple recipes to achieve good health while exploring careers within the food industry. They also learn about safety and proper sanitation in the kitchen, food storage requirements, and how to measure ingredients.
From there, students who wish to continue their culinary arts education can take Careers in Food and Nutrition. This course allows students to tackle more challenging reciples and begin an indepth search into careers in the service industry. These classes are for kids who have a strong interest in food, they don’t necessary need to have a career interest, but they should enjoy food, cooking, and being independent.
“I enjoy everything about the program,” said Jon Cervantes, a senior at WHHS. “It’s a good atmosphere and I’m enjoying my time with my classmates and teachers, joking around, it’s like a real kitchen scenario.”
Those students who stick with the program and have advanced through the first two courses will wrap up the program with the Culiminary Arts class, in which they get an authentic restaurant experience by running the school’s popular Culinary Café. In this class, Mr. Kent will pre-cook meats and prepare stations for students prior to their arrival, and as soon as students get to the kitchen, they head to their stations to begin cooking.
“Students who take this class can open themselves up to a lot of different opportunities, from food service, marketing, sales, from equipment to food, all different areas, and they learn how to deal with people which is probably the most important skill you can learn,” said Kent.
The Culinary Café offers an array of soups, sandwiches, salads, sometimes pizza or an entrée, and the foods are offered to teachers and staff for a small price. Menus this year have been Asian-themed, in which they made Won Ton Soup, Shrimp Spring Rolls, General Tso Chicken, Pork & Egg Lo Mein, and for dessert, Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches. A Mexican-themed menu earlier this year featured Pasta Fagioli, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Taco Salad, Chicken & Beef Enchilada, Pulled Pork & Bean Burrito and Chicken Quesadilla, and for sweets, Tres Leche Cake, Brownies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Fresh Sour Cream Cheese Cake. The café has also prepared holiday meals, such as a Saint Patrick’s Day menu in which they served Leek & Potato Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Shepard’s Pie, and Corned Beef Ruben sandwiches.
Staff can submit their oders via email and choose either pick up or delivery, much like a real restaurant experience. If they choose pick up, students will deliver the meal to their preferred destination. It gives students an opportunity to interact with teachers and learn how to count money, and it also helps teach accountability.
The Culinary class also offers students the opportunity to take the course for college credit. The class has a dual enrollment articulation with Gateway Community College, where students can obtain three credits for Gateway’s college course, HSP 103 Introduction to Food Preparation.
“If you are looking to get into the food services industry, looking to get a job as a cook or a chef, I think this program is for you,” added Cervantes.