Top Chef: Brooklyn Center
Students in Nancy Bohn’s culinary arts class at Brooklyn Center High School were busy making strawberry cheesecake, cream cheese tarts, chicken and bacon pastry puffs and a cranberry salsa last week.
The cooking frenzy in between their other classes of math and English was to prepare for the high school’s first “Chef Coat” ceremony on Dec. 6.
Twenty-four students created their own dishes for friends, family, classmates and teachers to taste before the unveiling of their very own chef coat.
Culinary arts started last year in the high school’s curriculum and staff decided to hold the ceremony to help students be recognized for their hard work and consider turning their talents into a career someday.
“This ceremony could be the start of something bigger and better for our students and the district,” said Bohn, a Family and Consumer Science teacher.
Senior Wendy Maciel, like many of her classmates, is already considering a career in the culinary field.
“I take this class very seriously,” Maciel said last week on a break from making one of her favorite treats – the strawberry cheesecake.
“We work to prepare food if we want to be chefs in the future,” Maciel said.
Bohn’s class includes everything from food safety and cleanliness to learning to prepare items quickly as if the students were really working in a restaurant, Maciel said.
It is offered through ProStart, a two-year curriculum program of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
Betty Fisk, from the Hospitality Minnesota Education Foundation, attended the chef coat ceremony and spoke about the many opportunities ProStart has for high school students.
They have scholarships for students to further their education in culinary skills and restaurant management, Fisk said. Often someone who wants to be a chef should also know management skills to help the restaurant they work in or open succeed, she said.
Never too late to start
Several of Bohn’s students have those culinary goals after they finish high school.
Maciel only started cooking in the last year after helping her mom and step-dad in the kitchen at home, she said.
Her interest is in making desserts, but Maciel said she also enjoys dishes with a lot of ingredients and vegetables similar to the Chinese food cooked by her father.
He is a chef in California and Maciel’s step-dad also used to be a chef, she said.
“I never noticed that I liked to cook before, I guess it’s in my blood,” she said. “It just makes me have a good feeling and you enjoy it and have fun.”
Students had their pick of what to make for the ceremony, leaving the quartet of 17-year-old seniors Kailey Kulyas, Alanna Hanson, Katie Grund and Ta’Kenya Friday to the chicken and bacon with cranberry salsa appetizer and cream cheese tarts.
The four students have varying levels of experience in cooking but all one day would like to work in a restaurant.
Grund has studied international foods and creative foods at BCHS already while Friday is new to cooking this year, she said.
Kulyas has worked for a caterer before, but likes being the one chopping and baking, she said while pressing pastry dough around the chicken and bacon mixture.
Friday aspires one day to make beef bourguignon like Julie Child and Grund would like to master chocolate mousse, they said.
For many students, the chef coat ceremony was a taste of many options for their futures, according to Brooklyn Center Community Schools Project Manager Patrice Howard.
“We want to provide our students with access to unlimited opportunities in Brooklyn Center,” Howard said. “We’re working hard to ensure that we are pursuing the goals of the community school model, while constantly seeking opportunities that promote success for students and the community,” Howard said.
After high school, Maciel said, she plans to spend a year working at a restaurant for experience and then continue her education.
Hanson said she would like to be a restaurant manager and is planning to study at Minneapolis Community and Technical College before choosing a culinary school in New York.
“I don’t think I’d ever have a chance to do something like this,” she said.