Culinary arts program teaches students how to run a restaurant

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Russell Amelunke carried lettuce, green peppers and red onions to a chopping board in the industrial kitchen while Courtney Elizalde worked at a table in the dining area trying to quadruple a recipe for cherry crisp.

Both are students in the culinary arts program at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. The program is open to high school students and adults interested in learning how to cook and manage a catering or restaurant business.

The program also offers a two-year certification program through Pro Start and the National Restaurant Association. The program gives students the experience necessary to be hired by a restaurant or catering service.

Instructor Carol Hulshof said many of her second-year students get internships working in a "real" business to see exactly what skills they use in food service.

"It makes them feel good because they know they can make it," she said.

Hulshof is demanding of her students. Though the program is a teaching lab of sorts, she does expect them to prepare menus and foods that would be appealing to customers. "We want them to eat, and you eat with your eyes."

Presentation is important and every recipe is a teaching experience for Hulshof. She walks through the kitchen talking about how certain foods react together, what vegetables make good accompaniments to ham or beef, and answers questions about food prep.

During the late winter and spring months, the students test their knowledge by serving meals each week over a 10-week period. Meals usually are served Tuesday through Thursday in the dining area of the Career and Technology Center. Serving is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the food is of nominal cost, with drink and dessert included in the price.

Students primarily work as sous chefs, preparing salads, baking desserts and breads and helping clear and clean the dining room area. One person serves as the main chef for the week, assigning classmates to tasks and making sure that all preparations are made for the meals. The chef also selects the menu, orders all supplies and gives everyone a copy of the recipes and ingredient lists.

"It's tricky because they have to work with the measurements and math when they're increasing or decreasing a recipe," Hulshof said.

Amelunke quickly learned that it would have been simpler for his kitchen staff to know the exact quantities of items they'd be using in a pasta salad instead having to double the recipe he gave them.

"It's pretty hectic because you have to prepare everything" in advance, he said. "I though I came in pretty prepared but I wasn't sure it would be this hard."

Hulshof likes that the students really have to think about their work and understand group dynamics, in addition to some chemistry, math and other skills.

"There's a lot that goes into it that I didn't realize when I started," said Barb Talley, an adult student who is working toward an associates degree. "I wanted to learn as much about the business as I could."

And the culinary arts class has provided her with that information, though she did work at a restaurant previously. Making market orders and keeping up with supplies "is a bigger job than I thought," she said. "It takes a lot of good organization and time management."

335-6611, extension 126

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