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Reading, writing and ... recipes? McKellar program turns out food-savvy teens -- and can inspire careers

 

McKellar Technology Center Culinary Arts Instructor Jakiero Dismuke, wearing the purple jacket, and some of his culinary arts students are pictured at a May 20 reception at Columbus High School with the food they prepared and served. The reception was just one occasion the teens were able to display their culinary skills. From left are Marquita Hall, Khamaya Brooks, Kandace Vaughn, Dismuke, Reggie Prince, Alexandria Gordon, Arlasha Henley and Dahlia Stewart.

McKellar Technology Center Culinary Arts Instructor Jakiero Dismuke, wearing the purple jacket, and some of his culinary arts students are pictured at a May 20 reception at Columbus High School with the food they prepared and served. The reception was just one occasion the teens were able to display their culinary skills. From left are Marquita Hall, Khamaya Brooks, Kandace Vaughn, Dismuke, Reggie Prince, Alexandria Gordon, Arlasha Henley and Dahlia Stewart. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Jan Swoope

 

Training in the culinary arts has come a long way from the home economics classes of yesteryear. And no wonder: More than 13 million people now work in the restaurant industry, the National Restaurant Association cites. Industry sales have risen from 1970's $42.8 billion (in today's dollars) to a projected $683.4 billion in 2014, research at the association's site, restaurant.org, tells us. 

 

It's not unusual to hear of culinary arts programs at area universities and community colleges, but many may not realize that students in Columbus can begin learning the ABC's of cooking and food science while still in high school. The McKellar Technology Center at Columbus High School offers culinary arts courses that introduce basics of food preparation, sanitation and workplace safety. In advanced classes, students can prepare for national certification in food service fields. They learn the history of the food service and lodging industry as well as more in-depth food prep and service. Key concepts of purchasing, inventory control and standard accounting are taught, the school's website explains. Through practice and exposure, students learn the what, where, when, why and how's of cooking.  

 

"We want to train and prepare these students, whether it's for being a server or line cook in a restaurant or having a career in the food service and hospitality industry," said Jakiero Dismuke, culinary arts instructor at McKellar.  

 

Dismuke, who came to the Magnolia State from Arkansas, graduated from the Culinary Arts Institute at Mississippi University for Women in 2012. He considered moving to larger cities like Atlanta or Memphis to find "the" job, but came to the realization he wanted to teach. When the position of instructor at McKellar opened for the 2013-2014 school year, he got his chance. 

 

"I've always liked to cook, and I wanted to be a teacher, so what a great way to do both," said Dismuke, who oversaw 32 students enrolled in the program his first year. 

 

 

 

Banquets and bomb threats 

 

As one of their final grades, students were tasked with planning, cooking and serving a multi-course meal for their parents.  

 

"They had my guidance, but they did the menu planning, all the preparation, table decor, everything," explained the instructor. 

 

Student Alexandria Gordon, 17, said, "It was a long process: We started planning in December and put it on paper in April, what we were actually going to do and how we'd do it." Gordon is the daughter of Letashia White and will be a senior when school begins in August. 

 

The menu was decided -- salad followed by roasted chicken breast with sun-dried tomato sauce on a bed of red-skinned mashed potatoes, with a vegetable medley on the side. For dessert, brownies topped with a raspberry mousse and garnished with curls of white chocolate.  

 

But all the planning in the world couldn't anticipate a bomb scare on the day of the banquet. The scare, a false alarm, forced culinary students to vacate the building in the morning, in the middle of food prep. They weren't able to return to the kitchen until approximately 3 p.m., and the dinner was scheduled for 6 p.m.  

 

"They did an excellent job," praised Dismuke. "They were kinda nervous; we had a very long day, and they were drained and tired from being in the sun all day, but they were ready at 6."  

 

"(Parents) loved it; they were actually amazed. (The meal) was a real good positive," remarked Gordon, saying she gained leadership skills from the experience. 

 

 

 

From here  

 

A few days before the semester's end, students again teamed to produce a spread, albeit a simpler one than the full dinner for parents. They prepared and served food for a reception honoring Columbus Municipal School District retirees, friends and family, in the Columbus High School Commons. It was the last major event of their culinary year.  

 

Many teens who go through the high school program won't make their lifelong careers in food service, but a significant number are likely to put their skills to use in summer jobs or employment to help bridge the funding gap through college. Others will pursue training on a higher level. The National Restaurant Association tells us that eight in 10 restaurant owners started their industry careers in entry-level positions. Some of those future owners and chefs around the country will come from today's students -- students like Gordon. 

 

"(The program) gave me insight into what I'd like to do ... I think I'd like to be a sous chef. ... I was mostly focused on becoming a teacher, but then the second year really changed my mind; the program showed me what I could really do," said the rising senior. "It has shown me how I can work with food and share it with people I love."

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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