Like many of his classmates, junior Hunter Allen looks forward to Sherry Kerr’s Culinary Arts Foundations class at Federal Way High School.
In fact, the school’s culinary arts program was what he was most excited about when he transferred from Wilson High School at the beginning of the year.
Kerr’s Culinary Arts Foundations and the advanced Pro-Start classes are two offerings in a buffet of other classes intended to provide students with as broad of an educational experience as possible with courses designed to engage or meet their interests. The career and technical education classes like Kerr’s make up a district initiative to let students experience and explore different career paths to either suit their interests or introduce them to future career paths, while also teaching how other academic subjects — like math or science — apply to them. In many cases, students can receive certifications that will make them more employable in the work force or even continue their education after high school.
Allen’s interest in enrolling in the Culinary Arts Foundations class, however, was more practical.
“I really just wanted to learn how to cook things,” he said.
Cooking and baking, while a significant part of Kerr’s classes, actually make up just a third of it, Kerr estimates.
“I thought we just came here and cooked and ate, but it’s a lot more,” Allen said.
To that end, students must learn how to read and follow recipes and measure out or weigh ingredients — in some cases using math to convert measurements. They also swab and cultivate yeast they collect from around the school and bacteria that grows on uncooked meat, an exercise that turns most students off of rare meat afterward, Kerr said.
Kerr said her classes really promote problem solving, planning and working together, although she is always there to help students if they get in a bind or have a question.
“I try to make it so they’re doing it rather than I’m doing it,” she said. “It’s a project-based class.”
They don’t stop with practical applications, however. Students also get lessons in building and designing menus, pricing ingredients and equipment, determining how much they should charge for meals and services to recoup their costs, as well as other business practices.
Kerr also enlists a number of guest speakers throughout the year, ranging from professional chefs to a professional busser.
“I try to give the kids lots of opportunities to learn about all aspects of the restaurant business,” Kerr said. “I try to bring in as many people as I can to talk with the kids.”
While Connor McConnaughey is happy to be learning more of the basics in Kerr’s Culinary Arts Foundations class, the junior said she is looking forward to taking the Pro-Start class next year so she can learn about the various areas of the food and restaurant industries.
“I’m interested in learning how it all fits together,” she said.
McConnaughey also wants to pursue a career in the culinary business.
“Eventually, when I graduate, I want to go to pastry school and become a pastry chef,” she said.
Kerr said a number of her students have gone on to culinary school after graduating.
Students who go through the entire culinary arts program in high school can take an exam and leave with certification of their achievements. All the culinary arts students receive first aid and CPR training, however, and the Pro-Start students also receive their food handler permits, which has led to many of them obtaining a job in the restaurant industry. Kerr said she has about 30 students a year use their food handler permit to find a job in the restaurant industry while they are still in high school or after.
“The more tools they have early and the more prepared they are, the better,” Kerr said.
Kerr said the culinary arts program benefits from all the students’ hands-on experience, also.
The projects that culinary arts students do outside of the lab, such as catering for different groups or selling meals to teachers every other week, supplement the funding allotted to the classes by the district.
Kerr said last year, her classes billed over $15,000 for services, and that money gets pumped back into the programs, including summer school.
“So that means I can provide my kids with the extra hands-on experience because I have the budget to do it,” she said.