Culinary arts class a hit with students, parents and administrators.
When you say “food” to a group of about 30 Hart District ROP Culinary Arts students, their imaginations take them much further than throwing together spaghetti and meatballs.
These kids would probably whip up something like pasta carbonara, the noodles freshly made and the sauce, well, there’s nothing like from scratch.
Wednesday night, the army of white-jacketed teens from several Hart District schools showed instructor Chef Louis Eguaras that they’d been listening in class. Using two kitchens at West Ranch High School, the kids created a bountiful feast for their practical final exam.
Invited guests included family, friends, school administrators and a reporter, who dined on salad of mixed greens with roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic croutons and sugar-dijon mustard bacon crumble, Salmon au Paupiette, infused with lemon-thyme olive oil over a bed of fettuccine served with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, Steak su Poivre with wild mushroom risotto, pancetta roasted artichoke hearts and parmesan toast. For dessert, Tartlette aux Framboise, a buttery tart filled with creamy custard and topped with fresh raspberries and a refreshingly delicious iced tea.
Proud parents beamed, as did Chef Eguaras, at the end of the evening. And from this diner’s palate, it was one of the most delicious meals she’d ever enjoyed.
But long before the congratulatory pats on the back started, there was an afternoon’s worth of work. Time-consuming, attention-to-detail, exacting work that the students seemed to relish.
Students gathered in the kitchens at West Ranch High School to prepare for a four-hour marathon of cutting, wrapping, mixing, grilling, sautéing and presentation that was their final exam. According to guidelines that included the prohibition of “iPhones, iPods, i-anythings” and “fuzzy slippers,” gone were electronics so critical to teen survival. As work was finished, Eguaras looked the other way when a triumphant group photo was taken near the prep table or the deep cooler. They were clearly proud of their work.
Hart senior Ava Bardsley was chosen by her fellow students to serve as Executive Chef for the evening. The tall brunette was the essence of calm, something Eguaras said made her a natural choice for their leader.
“I stayed out of it,” he said, smiling.
Bardsley has wanted to be a chef since she was a little girl and is on the fast track to realizing her dream. She starts her studies at the Cordon Bleu next year and hopes to be a pastry chef.
The atmosphere of “controlled chaos” (Eguaras’ words) didn’t phase her, but she ran a tight ship, even scolding Eguaras for talking to a visitor instead of running to the store.
“Food brings people together, making people happy and putting a smile on their face is what I like about cooking,” said Shannon Kane, a West Ranch senior also headed for Cordon Bleu next year. “If someone is having a bad day, food usually makes them happy.”
West Ranch senior Robert Murray took the culinary arts class “for the units” but found he liked cooking so much he prepared his family’s entire Thanksgiving dinner.
“It was good, I cooked the turkey without stuffing and it was the most moist turkey I’ve ever had,” he said.
A former White House chef, Eguaras was encouraged to become a teacher by his wife, who needed a little coaching in the kitchen. A teacher herself, as she learned her way around the kitchen, she steered her husband toward the classroom. He helped create the culinary program at College of the Canyons before moving to the ROP program at Hart District and found that student interest went far beyond just learning survival skills.
The enthusiastic young chef gives his students a lot of chances to learn about food outside of the kitchen as well, assigning them trips to restaurants to observe and review both food and service.
“We have a Farmers Market on Thursday afternoons, so I told the kids to go and look at the produce there and talk with the farmers, ask them about the produce, and if they’re organic,” Eguaras said. “See if you can go to their farms and visit.”
He’s taken the students to the Cordon Bleu Institute in Pasadena, where he teaches two days a week. And he’s excited about expanding the class into 2009, when he hopes to emphasize catering and restaurant management. If nothing else, the students will have a good background in the kitchen with good habits, like cleaning up as they go along, timing the different aspects of the meal and serving healthy meals.
Thanks to the positive response to this semester’s class, students in the first class this fall will be able to continue their training with an ROP Advanced Culinary Arts class starting in January, along with a repeat of the introductory culinary arts class for new students. Satellite classes such as baking and patisserie also are in the planning stages.
ROP classes are open to high school students 16 years and older free of charge, and to adults on a space-available basis for a nominal fee. Registration information for the spring classes can be obtained by contacting ROP advisors at any Hart District high school, checking online at www.hartrop.com, or calling 259-0033, extension 234.