Few things in today’s culture are as hot as cooking, and with some new high-level equipment and jam-packed classes, plenty of Cody High School students will graduate with a taste of just what it’s like to create a little magic in a professional kitchen.
Construction finished just before classes started this year on a little corner of culinary bliss at CHS that will help students interested in the art evolve in one of the most in-demand, challenging and rewarding industries.
“We’ve always had a good draw to our cooking classes,” CHS Principal Jeremiah Johnston said. “Now that kids see that we have a dedicated facility with some pretty high-end equipment, they are even more excited about learning in that area.”
After looking at the high school’s continuing and technical education programs over the last couple of years, it became evident to staff there was a lack of a dedicated facility for the culinary arts program.
Students had previously shared a busy district kitchen that prepares the food for the entire district.
With the COVID demands last year in the district, there was no time to get into that kitchen for some hands on experience.
“The kids kind of had to work out of an old concession stand downstairs,” school nutrition director and new culinary arts teacher Gen Sheets said. “They were real troopers.”
Now, after securing a small grant and restructuring a second floor classroom, students will have the opportunity to feel the heat in a real kitchen.
The grant money secured stainless steel tables, wash sink, prep sink, hand sink, refrigerator and oven.
The program already had a char broiler, range with standard oven and a salamander, essentially a dedicated broiler designed to achieve perfect grilling.
Combining all of that with a new commercial hood system should provide a recipe for culinary success.
“What’s so great about this is if these kids get into a commercial kitchen, this is what they are going to see,” Sheets said. “They are already immersed in what they will see down the road and will be comfortable in that environment.”
Expert cooking has been trending off the charts the last few years, and with a discipline that combines so much math, science and creativity, it’s a class that has gone from being pretty popular to nearly impossible to get into.
The class went from one per day to now two per day over three periods. Sheets also is regularly asked by students if there is any space in the class for them to join.
“We’ve had a lot of interest, so it can really build into a good program,” Johnston said. “If a student requests it we will try to fill as many as those requests as we can.”
Some other requests may come from the class directly to the community as well, as the faculty and staff at CHS look to fill a void in the Cody culinary community that a number of other cities and towns are currently having to deal with.
After a recent community needs assessment it was clear many of the skills that come out of the culinary arts program will be welcomed in the region, from catering, to restaurants to the plethora of food manufacturing in the area.
“I’m brand new to this, so I’m trying to figure out how to bring people in from the community so they can help,” Sheets said. “When we work with meats it might be fun to go to a business that cuts meats and show us how they do that, and maybe go somewhere and see the proper use of the char broiler. Hopefully we can get the donut guy to come over and we can learn a little about fats and oils with him.”
First things are always first, however, as students are presently engaged in the importance of food safety and getting the foundations down for good cooking before firing up the grills.
“We want the students to learn the kind of skills that will be applicable, and we want the kids to be coachable once the class is over if they end up in a kitchen where they do things a little different,” Sheets said. “Whether they decide to take a culinary direction in the future or not, they will know their way around products and around a kitchen. Those are useful skills for everybody.”