More than 100 students at Vista High School are roasting, mixing, chopping and pureeing their way to credits through the culinary arts program now in its second year there.
The school has a full-service kitchen and dining area in what used to be an oversized classroom. The facility is thanks in part to a partnership with Vista Adult Education, which plans to use the facility to train adults in the evenings and on weekends.
And the teens aren’t only learning to cook. They’re also studying restaurant management, hospitality, budgeting and marketing as part of the two-year program.
During their first semester, students focus mostly on nutrition and safety before moving into the kitchen. They are able to participate in a variety of duties, including preparing, cooking and serving food as well as operating the adjacent cafe, marketing the effort and cleaning the dishes and uniforms.
“They really get a taste of everything,” said Kim Plunkett, who teaches the classes. “They get a feel for what it’s like to actually work in this industry.”
The skills they learn through the work include time management, etiquette and budgeting, which are applicable to nearly any career, she said.
Working in the cafe on campus gives the teens some real-world experience. They serve meals to school employees there most Fridays.
“I eat over there, and I love it,” Principal Steve James said. “The food is incredible. These kids are learning the finer points of working in a fine-dining restaurant.”
They also have catered four on-campus events this year.
The culinary program, as well as others at the school that focus on automotive training and agriculture, help keep kids connected to school, James said.
“They’re thriving in these courses because they feel that there’s a place for them in education,” he said.
Students in the agriculture program even grown salad greens and herbs that the teens in the culinary arts program use to prepare meals.
The cooking classes have been fun and eye-opening, said Jessica Dobrin, a junior in the program who hopes to go to culinary school after graduation.
“We get to learn a lot about what the industry is like,” she said.
The school pays for the food with career-training and grant money. Eventually, the goal is for the program to bring in enough cash to be self sustaining, Plunkett said.
In November, Vista High’s kitchen was used for the first Soup Bowl Invitational, a competition in which students from schools throughout the area prepared soups to try to wow the judges and earn an engraved ladle. Vista High was the runner-up in the competition with a shrimp bisque.