Tori Hardaway stands over a hot stove sautéing carrots while prepping chicken, mushrooms, celery and green apples. The 17-year-old is crafting mulligatawny soup during a typical day in the kitchen at Renaissance High School.
“You have to get the carrots just right,” Tori said.
Tori is part of the West Ada School District’s culinary arts school, which is a hands-on, job-training program where students learn everything about operating a restaurant.
“I never knew I had a passion for it,” said Tori, who once aspired to become a veterinarian until she discovered her calling in the kitchen. “Cooking blossomed into something more.”
The West Ada School District culinary arts program earned a 2017 Exemplary Award from the Idaho State Department of Education. The award is given to a career and technical program that provides quality teaching, curriculum and current industry-aligned equipment and practices. The program received a $2,000 award.
Cooking in the kitchen
The three-year program focuses on culinary and pastry. A culinary class is offered to sophomores at their home high school. As juniors and seniors, they’re given the opportunity to continue in the culinary program at the Professional-Technical Center, located at Renaissance High School.
The facility features state-of-art culinary equipment, which includes a computer lab, bakery, kitchen and restaurant dining area.
Classes include food and nutrition, introduction to culinary arts and advanced culinary arts. Students can earn up to 14 college credits in the culinary program through the College of Southern Idaho. Students can also earn a food handlers card and the National Restaurant Association ServSafe Certification.
“The standards are set high,” said Kevin Bui, a senior at Renaissance High School.
Students in the advanced culinary arts class work together to manage Renaissance Cafe — a working restaurant open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays for lunch from November through May. The week’s menu is planned and cooked by students. This is an opportunity for students to sharpen their skills through applied practice as they learn the trade. Sales from the restaurant help fund the program.
Head of the kitchen
Vern Hickman is the master chef in the kitchen and started the program in 2008. Hickman worked in restaurants for eight years and taught 21 years at Boise State University in the Culinary Arts Program. He is certified through the American Culinary Federation as a certified chef de cuisine and certified culinary educator. He is joined in the kitchen by two other chefs who help guide the students.
“I get to take what I love and that’s cooking for people, and I get to pass it on to the next generation,” Hickman said. “I could retire next year, but I’m not ready to step-down yet.”
The culinary arts program is certified through the American Culinary Federation. Students learn restaurant skills by studying, practicing and performing duties required in the food and beverage industry.
“I’m tough when I need to be,” Hickman said. “When it comes to the food, it’s serious and we don’t joke around.”
While in the program, students must complete an eight hour internship with local chefs or caterers. Students have gone on to work in kitchens such as Big Daddy’s BBQ in Meridian and The Terraces of Boise, a senior living community.
Two evenings a week, Tori is a prep cook at the Boise Centre, where speed and precision are critical to her job. Her performance during her internship led to a job offer.
“Being in the kitchen can be very high stress,” Tori said. “I learned that right away working in a banquet kitchen.”
Tori plans to continue her education at Oregon Coast Culinary Institute. She received $2,000 in scholarships through cooking competitions and plans to work at a restaurant to help pay for school. Her dream is to become a personal or corporate chef.