Education column: Food program aims to build foundation for culinary careers

If you ever happen to wander down the halls in A Building at Clovis High School, I have to warn you it’s a risky business at certain times of the day. Often, the most delectable aromas are emanating from the food lab.

The lab is an oversized, fully equipped, professional kitchen shared by teachers in the Family and Consumer Sciences department at the high school.

Looking in on one of Jude Uerling’s ProStart classes was not only a delightful experience, it was mouth-watering and scrumptious.

ProStart, from the National Restaurant Educational Foundation (www.nraef.org/), is a two-year program offered at CHS and is a career-building program for high school students interested in culinary arts and restaurant and food-service management.

As I observed the class in progress in the food lab, I had the impression Uerling was conducting a symphony; there was constant, controlled movement in all areas of the lab-kitchen. Uerling directed all the students, regardless of their tasks, missing nothing, challenging, nudging, and correcting, all laced with humor.

Even as students sampled their culinary creations, Uerling prompted them in developing discriminating palates by analyzing and discussing spices and textures while tasting. One young lady, teased by fellow students about her picky eating habits, actually finished the dishes they’d jointly created, accompanied by applause from her fellow students.

I was impressed by the impeccable standards, from cleanliness to quality to final presentation.

Much to my delight I was invited to sample the final dishes: Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Shrimp. The food was incredible; definitely some of the best I have ever tasted. I immediately tried to sign up for the class, but it turns out you have to be in high school.

When I asked students which of them was planning on pursuing a career in culinary arts, well over half immediately shot their hands into the air. The students also eagerly shared many other things. For example, I learned that the traditional chef headgear is called a “toque” and that the number of pleats or folds in the puffy part of the toque represents all the ways to cook an egg.

The program has its own curriculum, and the demands are considerable. Uerling provides students with the opportunity to learn professional skills, travel to regional competitions and, if they complete the program, students are awarded a nationally recognized professional certification.

Of the total number of students who have participated in the program, about 85 percent have completed the full two-year program.

Uerling has taken students to the state invitationals three times so far. They placed in the top three twice. Students have also captured the traveling trophy once for receiving the highest cumulative score.

Come back next week for details of some of the other classes offered through this innovative department at Clovis High School.

The humorous poster hanging in the hall expresses it best. It reads, something like…“Family and Consumer Sciences: Not the same as your mama’s old Home Economics!”