The next Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay or Rachael Ray could already be cooking up a storm in New Hampshire at one of the culinary programs being run at high schools across the state. Whether the program has existed for more than a decade or less than a year, the next generation of great cooks is being exposed to all roles in the kitchen and dining room to cultivate their passion and give them the experience they need to find sweet or savory success in the culinary field.
Windows on West Street is open
100+ students cook at Milford High School
Having grown up helping in the kitchen, Jessica Dean entered high school with a passion for cooking.
“I love being in the kitchen, all the smells … I love to be creative with my cooking — you don’t need a recipe,” said the aspiring chef.
Dean, 17, is a senior at Souhegan High School but has been bused to Milford High School daily for the last year and a half to take part in the school’s culinary program. She is one of nearly 10 out-of-district students working in the kitchen and on the floor of Windows on West Street, the restaurant at MHS. Dean is earning college credit from Lakes Region Community College through her enrollment in the program.
“I just love being here,” Dean said. “I’ve made so many friends in the last two years and have learned so many new recipes in a new learning environment.”
The culinary program and Windows on West Street have been part of the MHS community for 13 years. This year an estimated 130 students are enrolled in three blocks of 90-minute culinary classes.
In the 2,500-square-foot kitchen designated for the program, the first class starts preparing soups, vegetables, breads and pastries for the day at 7:30 a.m.; the second block also makes breads and pastries and preps the ingredients needed for the dishes that will be offered that day. Salad dressings are also made from scratch during the first two sections of the class (soy vinaigrette is the restaurant’s house dressing). The third class takes the reins at 10:45 a.m., manning the stove, oven, dishwasher and all other back-of-the-house aspects of the restaurant.
In the dining room the A block counts the money earned the day before and makes a deposit; the students also stock the pastries and vacuum the restaurant’s rug. The next block sets up the dining room, fills the garnish station, slices the bread and readies the butters, creams and ketchup. The C block students serve as the waitstaff and don collared shirts and neckties.
Each student spends time on different roles around the restaurant, on a rotating schedule.
“We expose the students to all different areas because it gives them a set of skills they can use to apply for jobs with,” said Paul Joyce, Windows on West Street dining room manager. “They will have experience and know where they feel comfortable at a restaurant.”
The restaurant is open to the public and sees many elderly diners, which Joyce said does two things: it lets students develop a comfort level and even friendships with older people, and it allows the elderly to see youngsters in a positive light.
“We have two diverse groups interacting with each other,” Joyce said. “It’s great to watch as the year goes on.”
“Please could you seat her?” he asked a student standing at the restaurant’s host station as a female staffer entered the dining room.
The 60-seat dining room has its own entrance (diners may park in the visitor lot at the school) and waiting area. Strands of glowing white rope lights are strung across the ceiling and antique kitchen ware is displayed in shadow boxes on the walls alongside student artwork. A server station tucked in the corner of the restaurant holds pitchers full of water, a tall wooden pepper grinder, extra utensils and two point-of-sale systems.
Pastries are kept in a glass bakery case manned by students. The bakery shop station also has a window inside the school’s dining room at which select students are allowed to make purchases during their lunch period. Recently, the shelves at the shop were filled with macaroons, fruit tarts, pumpkin pie bars and whoopie pies. Bread and rolls, too, are sold as to-go items.
The dining room menu, Joyce said, is more functional than seasonal.
“Minestrone soup comes around a lot because it allows us to teach students to cut vegetables,” he said. Meat, chicken and seafood are always among the daily offerings at the restaurant. One recent Friday, London Broil, Seafood Casserole (made with sea scallops, haddock, shrimp and crab meat) and Chicken Saute (with tomatoes, shallots, garlic and oregano) were offered, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $7.75. All meals are served with salad, a starch, vegetables and rolls. The starch, quiche, vegetable, soup and sandwich of the day are listed on the specials board in the kitchen, leaving it up to the students to share that information with their customers.
The culinary students take a field trip to a local restaurant every year, with the tips earned at Windows on West Street during the year used to offset the cost of transportation (all money earned at the restaurant goes back into the program). Last year, students visited The Barn restaurant in Grafton, Mass., and spoke with the chef, the owner and the farmers who supply organic food to the eatery.
“[The field trips] are an opportunity for students to see what they are learning here done in the industry,” Joyce said.
Astro Café launches young chefs
Pinkerton opens new culinary program
The kitchen of the Astro Café in Derry is designed to let the culinary students of Pinkerton Academy soar. Nine cooking stations — each has two burners, a sink and a shelf holding cutting boards and cookware — and six baking tables, each with large white bins holding sugar and flour, are set up to give students hands-on experience and the tools they will need to pursue a career after high school.
“Some places have a kitchen line and work area but no place for students to practice,” said Jack Grube, director of career and technical training at the school.
Grube said Pinkerton Academy held off on implementing a culinary program until this year because of the costs and space requirements.
“It is a big commitment and we needed a space designed with public access,” Grube said. “If we didn’t have all those ingredients existing, it would take a new structure to bring them together.”
The new structure came in the form of the Academy Building that was erected on the school’s campus last year. The Astro Café celebrated its soft opening with a ribbon-cutting on Nov. 8. For now, the student-run eatery will only be open for take-out service and will book breakfast and lunch catering gigs for small business meetings. The restaurant will open to the public in late winter or early spring, said chef and Culinary I instructor Mark Cahill.
An advisory committee that includes people from local food and hospitality businesses has overseen the development of the program for the last seven years and will continue to do so. Representatives from culinary programs at Johnson and Wales University and Southern New Hampshire University were also involved with the program planning from the beginning, Grube said.
“We really want colleges to be competing for our graduates,” he said.
Prior to forming an advisory committee, the school had surveyed students in its Intro to Foods and Advanced Intro to Foods courses (both classes fall within the Family and Consumer Science Department) to see if they had an interest in, and would dedicate time to, a culinary program.
“We needed the kids to know this is what they want,” Grube said.
An estimated 60 students enrolled in the year-long Culinary I course, which runs for 90 minutes three times a day.
“I think that says that kids were waiting for this kind of program,” Cahill said. “A majority of my students even come here on their personal time — during their study halls they are here to hang out, help out and work on things.” Students often spend time in the kitchen before and after school, he added.
When senior Jake Webb, 17, first heard of a culinary program coming to Pinkerton, he hoped it would be implemented during his junior year.
“I’m OK with [its starting senior year],” he said. “I’m just glad I got into it and that it came about.”
“It would be great if we could do Culinary II next year, but we can’t,” said senior Advin Humic, 17.
“I might come back for it!” Webb joked. He then noted that the program is great for students, like himself, who plan to pursue culinary arts after high school.
“You don’t have to go into it totally blind,” said junior Katherine Burt, 16. Burt and Humic also plan to pursue a career in culinary arts after high school.
“The chef is the new rock star, they say,” Cahill said.
So far the Culinary I students have done more cooking and creating than was planned in the curriculum, Cahill said. The Pinkerton Academy culinary program is the only one in the state that uses the ProStart curriculum and textbooks created by the National Restaurant Association.
“[In the curriculum] there is not a tremendous amount of cooking … so we are probably way ahead of ourselves,” Cahill said adding that baking is also lacking in the textbook. “I think we’ve done more baking in the last six weeks than we would in the next two years in the textbooks.”
Cahill said it has become apparent that half of his students are more interested in baking and pastry than the savory side of culinary arts. In upcoming years students may have an opportunity to continue with Culinary II or follow a baking and pastry track instead.
“I really want to grab the culinary students and really get them to look forward to coming back for the Culinary II program or the baking and pastry program,” Cahill said.
Students will also be trained in front-of-the-house duties at the 50-seat Astro Café. The stone-walled restaurant features a large skylight in the center of its ceiling. Coffee cups and plates are stacked at the server station, for which a new point-of-sale system has recently been purchased, and metal tray stands lean against a nearby wall. To cater to youngsters, booster seats and highchairs are available for customers upon request. When the weather gets warmer, the patio outside the eatery will be set up for dining.
Grube said soon the Astro Café will be, well, not better than the nicer restaurants in southern New Hampshire, but “it will be as good as them with 17- and 18-year-old cooks.”