Education Feature: Program caters to culinary cravings

CNJ staff photo: Gabriel Monte Clovis High School culinary and baking students make pesto sauce for their world cuisine class.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

There are two channels Clovis High senior Robbie Wilmont usually watches, the Cartoon Network and the Food Network.

“(Cooking shows) and cartoons (are) all I watch,” he said.

His interest in cooking is no joke.

Wilmont is part of a program started last year at the high school that prepares students for careers in the restaurant and food service industry.

The Clovis High School Culinary Arts and Baking Program incorporated advanced culinary courses, called ProStart, into its curriculum this year, said Family and Consumer Science Department Chairwoman Annette Hadley.

“It’s a program that leads to a possible certification and students can go directly into the industry,” Culinary arts teacher Judy Uerling said.

By the end of the year, about 180 students will have gone through the culinary and baking classes, Hadley said.

The program was recognized with a best in class award from the New Mexico Research and Study Council Quality Education Awards Program.

Students can also earn credits for culinary schools. Uerling said the high school works with culinary organizations such as the Chicago Culinary Institute and Johnson and Wales.

Students learn about food preparation in a $1.2 million commercial kitchen, which has the same equipment as most five-star restaurants, Uerling said. The funds for the kitchen came from critical capital funding from the school and sponsors of vocational education options.

“This isn’t your little home (economics) class,” she said. “Most restaurants are envious of what we have here.”

Students in the baking and culinary arts program will also try their hand in catering events, Hadley said. Students catered a school-sponsored dinner. They also sell pastries at the high school and make take-out dinners for teachers.

“Throughout the year, we choose things we can do throughout the community,” said Hadley.

This year, students in the advanced culinary class are learning about world cuisine. They made a pesto sauce Wednesday.

“We get to cook and try new things,” said senior Shanae Cardenas. “This year we’re making world cuisine, that’s even better.”

Cardenas said she joined the program her sophomore year because she wants to go to a culinary school after graduation.

“This is what I want to do,” she said. “That’s the whole reason I took the class ‘cause this is it.”

Wilmont, who works at local restaurant making pizzas, said he watches cooking shows because he likes seeing the end result of the effort put into making a dish.

“I’m still finding what I can make best,” he said.