At the beginning of the school year, the
culinary team at the Herndon Career Center in the Raytown School District
near Kansas City set a goal to be the best team in the United States. In fact,
members of the team put post-it notes on their bathroom mirrors that said first
in the nation. This spring they achieved that goal, taking first place out of 48
teams in the national ProStart invitational culinary arts competition.
Chef and culinary arts instructor Mike Chrowstowski says the team has been
amazing to coach and mentor. “You know this team for me was, it was awesome. I
mean this team, you know, I mean they came in with with goals. To learn how to
cook, learn some craft, and some skills of how to be successful
in the kitchen and I think you know they I found little niches that they were
good at and I tried to exploit that for all it was worth. And from there they
just grew and so when teams came about and the team you know you’re like you’re
on a culinary team you could see like wow!” Team member and Raytown South High
School student Levi Barkley says the national competition was challenging. “The
stress was something I definitely was expecting and there was a lot of it but
it was really well organized it was a lot of fun, it was really cool to see
other teams from all around the country, and also with Japan and Germany were
there. It was really great to see the different food that everyone brought.”
Students in Herndon’s culinary arts program are juniors and seniors who meet
three hours a day five days a week. Besides classwork, the students have
extensive hands-on experience in a professional kitchen Chrowstowski says the
students must pass a safety and sanitation test before actually
beginning their instruction on cooking methods. “And we try to do as high level
as we possibly can so we may start to unit out with a real simple recipe with
the lecture, a demo of how to do it maybe some videos that they can go home
and watch to kind of get another chef’s perspective, guest speakers come in they
give their perspective as well. And then we just hopefully by the end of the unit
you know we’re doing some really cool stuff and we’re really stretching and
pushing and hitting goals that they didn’t know
that they could reach with which is always really fun to grow and see and
watch them evolve.” Members of the national championship team say there’s a
lot more to becoming a chef than they imagined when they started the program.
“Such as like different techniques on how to cook meat or how to use a saute pan
the right way just times and temps and how to control
your food and handle what you’re cooking.” “I’ve learned a lot of things about the
industry, a lot. One major thing I’ve learned it’s not as easy as it looks.
Cooking looks easy there’s a lot of things you got to know just to make a
simple plate.” While the first year of the program focuses on learning cooking
skills the second year includes instruction on restaurant management.
“Honestly a chef should be able to cook but can you manage your numbers, can you
work on your labor, can you formulate a food cost? Do you know how to calculate a
food cost? Can you write you know do a recipe that could train your whole
entire kitchen staff so it’s the same day after day? So we spend a lot of time
on that over the year. They build a business plan. Chrowstowski says he
eventually lets the students get creative. “Now you know I mean you know a
lot of the beginning of the year is you know let’s stick to the recipe. You know
prove to me that you can saute a chicken breasts right not once but maybe five
times and then show me that you can make a sauce to go with and then let’s stay
in that box. But eventually I’m gonna give you the creative freedom because
you’ve proved to me that you can start to go outside of that box a little bit
and think about you know how can I work with some of the you know the fancy
white powders to you know make you know raspberry caviar or something. You know
you have to prove to me that you can display a cooking method before you know
we go and start getting into more expensive ingredients. And you know a lot
of times students just rise to that occasion and you know you start to see
some really amazing pretty sweet dishes coming out of the kitchen you’re like
wow I get to taste this? I really have a hard job don’t I?” By finishing first in the
national competition team members were awarded a total of 223 thousand dollars
in scholarships to be used to continue their education in the restaurant and
food service industry. So what was the menu the students prepared in order to
win the national championship? It featured a buttered poached Maine
lobster and saffron couscous appetizer. Pinenut tenderloin paired with truffled
Yukon potato and vegetable entree and a raspberry dark chocolate bavarian for
dessert. Chrowstowski says some alumni of the program work in the best restaurants
in the world while others have taken a different
career path. “You know I have other students that have decided that you know
being a chef is really fun it was nice but I want to see where this avenue is
going to take me so they jump into food science and milling science. And you know
they’re just doing great things and you know they’re not spending 15 hours in a
kitchen you know they’re spending 12, 13 hours in a lab talking about stuff
that’s gonna really keep us safe and and it’s just a huge I mean it’s a good
science is exploding right now.” Preparing students for careers and continuing
education in a growing industry, one more reason to stand up for Missouri’s public
schools.