Students learn practical, professional skills in Culinary Pathway
There are lots of reasons to learn to cook.
Whether looking for ways to feed yourself or others, exploring new ingredients and techniques, or even setting the foundation for a career in the hospitality industry, it all starts with the knowledge of the elements and processes of preparing food.
Students at Burnsville High School have access to a wide array of career pathways that they can explore, but only one results in projects that they can eat. Growing from its roots in the Family and Consumer Sciences department program, the BHS Culinary Pathway has expanded to 21 class sections a year, all of which are full of students eager to learn new skills.
Teacher Matt Deutsch was part of the initial creation of the Hospitality and Tourism Pathway and the inclusion of cooking classes. With years of experience as a teacher and having recently completed culinary school on the side, it was the perfect time and way to combine two of his passions.
“It is really fun to be creative in a different way like cooking,” said Deutsch. “Students get excited about their work and really show pride in what they are making. Teaching these classes is still teaching but it’s so different and sometimes I can’t believe my job involves things like sharpening 70 knives or sourcing ingredients.”
Classes include Foundations of Food, Cooking in Motion, Chef 1-3, and Hospitality & Tourism Management. Students get to go beyond the classroom, occasionally catering events in and out of the school, doing the menu planning, prep and cooking in the school kitchen.
Deutsch and his students are often called upon for other food-related needs as well. When an extra pallet of blueberries was delivered to the school, students developed recipes to use them for lunch service. An on-campus garden provides produce that is donated to the local food shelf with students creating recipes that are distributed with the food to provide ways to cook products that may be unfamiliar. Before the pandemic, classes worked with the BHS food service team to develop some recipes that ended up being served in the cafeteria, including a traditional Somali dish called Chicken Suqaar.
“The students are really curious and like exploring and trying different foods,” said Deustch. “I had one student say that a cake we made was the fanciest cake and the best dessert she had ever had! Students also get to try foods they may not have had before with one of the most popular being asparagus. There are never leftovers on asparagus day.”
In addition to learning techniques that will benefit them as adults, some students continue into a career in the food and hospitality industry. Students are able to earn two different certifications that can have a real impact on their ability to become employed and successful in the industry. Students can take tests to achieve the ServSafe certification, a certification from the National Restaurant Association that covers safe food handling and other essential parts of restaurant operations or the National ProStart Certificate of Achievement, an industry-recognized certificate given to those with a strong foundation in the management and culinary skills critical to success by restaurant industry leaders.
These certificates can immediately be put to use in a student’s life and combined with an internship at a local business, students can be on the fast track to a great career. BHS senior Lilly Banasik first took a Family and Consumer Sciences class in middle school and has proudly taken every cooking class offered. She is also working towards the hospitality and tourism internship alongside her job at a bakery while planning to pursue a degree in Culinology, which blends food science and culinary art with the ultimate goal of becoming a food stylist.
“I have always really loved baking and cooking, going back to just wanting to help my parents,” said Lilly. “In ninth grade, my dad and I did some research on different career paths I could work towards and planned courses I could take in high school, and I got really excited about the culinary pathway. I love making something and having it look good and be presented well and then being able to eat it.”
Students like Lilly have used what they learned in the Culinary Pathway courses to make an impact on their lives. Alumni have gone on to culinary school, to work in restaurants and hotels, and other career paths. A recent student who was employed at Mystic Lake Casino got a $3 an hour raise for having their ServSafe certification.
The program continues to expand with more connections to local businesses and industry partners. BHS has been a partner of the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest in recent years, with students assisting local chefs and bakers in preparing and testing each of the finalist cookie recipes. Lilly even sits on the panel of judges alongside industry experts and food critics.
“It is really fun to explore the different recipes and sometimes the techniques are really cool like having to intricately place almonds to look like a pinecone,” said Lilly. “We get to spend all day tasting and talking about each cookie while we select our favorites. It’s a great way to explore recipes, which is something I really enjoy.”
Two big changes for the program that Mr. Deustch has noticed are the increase in enthusiasm from students and the growing support from the community and the local restaurant industry. Restaurants and hotels offer behind the scenes tours to classes, tastings and demonstrations, and donations of ingredients and equipment. The Burnsville Chamber of Commerce has been a strong supporter of the program with many business owners eager to connect with students.
“A lot of local businesses are excited because they are looking for great employees,” said Deutsch. “There is a lot of passion to cook good food and teach others how to cook good food. Mainly we are showing students how to provide for themselves and be happy and healthy while showing them some of the jobs they can get into earning a good wage right after high school.”