“The greatest reward is seeing that ‘light bulb’ come on for a student when we are working in the kitchen. I also love seeing how proud they are… when they create something they’ve never made before.”

“Wrist, fingers, hands and nails, now do the Hokey Pokey,” Allison Allen sings as students enter her Culinary Arts Class at GHS. “It helps students to remember the order for scrubbing their hands. The hair must be up, their hands must be washed, they put on the chef coat and apron, then wash their hands again. Students must wash their hands multiple times during a lab to prevent cross contamination, food borne illness and keeping a clean work space.”

GHS Culinary Classroom

Photograph by Dawn Skinner

The day I observed the class, they made Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream Icing in preparation for the Cupcake Battle competition in the spring. At the beginning of class, Allen went over the roles of each recipe element. “Fat is our friend—our minds need it. Cornstarch stops gluten from forming. All-purpose flour has 12% gluten, but Swan’s Down Cake Flour is lighter with less gluten. Sifting adds air to flour, but if it’s too light, it won’t support the dense ingredients. Baking powder and soda—leavening—raises, lightens and lifts. Sugar makes us happy. Eggs moisturize. Vanilla enhances flavor. Milk, lactic acid—Boom!—time to rise.”

Pathway, Principles of Hospitality and Tourism

The state of the art kitchen contains one huge Hobart standing mixer. Each stainless steel station is equipped with a KitchenAid Commercial Mixer and a drawer containing necessary utensils. To prevent tripping, the electrical cords go up to the ceiling. Each of the three students per station has a job to do, working together, measuring and mixing. Large rolling bins hold flour and sugars. Students retrieve other ingredients and supplies from the storage rooms or the walk-in freezer.

Home Economics class used to prepare girls to become homemakers, teaching about nutrition and cooking, childcare and decorating. Girls perfected what they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Culinary Arts, part of the Career and Technical Education: Hospitality and Tourism Pathway, goes far beyond traditional Home Ec. class. The first class in the Pathway, Principles of Hospitality and Tourism, focuses on the hotel and restaurant industry as a whole. Students learn skills to help them function in this multi-faceted and multi-billion dollar business.

Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness

The next class is Lifetime Nutrition and Wellness, which concentrates on nutrition, food choices and food management skills for individuals, families and business. The Restaurant Management class serves as an introduction and prerequisite for Culinary Arts. The students gain insight into food production, management and hospitality skills. Culinary Arts students work in a commercial kitchen setting, focusing on food service, preparation, safety and sanitation, customer service and other employable skills.

GHS Culinary Instructor

Photograph by Dawn Skinner

 

Allison Allen explains of these new programs:

“The Hospitality pathway classes fill a need for many students. Cultural awareness, diversity, professional resumes, interviewing, history, science, chemistry, writing, math, engineering, accounting… and that’s all BEFORE they take Culinary Arts. Not everyone is the ‘traditional student’. Some people learn best when given the tools in their hands and a purpose. Working in the kitchen gives many of them that purpose. They enjoy seeing a product made by their own hands. They have the biggest smiles when someone compliments them on their culinary product. And it’s fun! Culinary school takes anywhere from nine months to two years, depending on which program you pursue. For many students, this is the best continuing education. It’s quick, it’s their passion, it’s challenging and it’s rewarding. Most students in culinary schools work in the industry and receive credit for their efforts. I make it my goal to give these kids a ‘real world’ education. It’s not just about what they can learn in a book. It’s about sharing tips and tricks along the way to make learning fun and to work smarter not harder.

About 30% of students who begin on this pathway finish Culinary Arts. With the new kitchen and a new teacher, we anticipate that number increasing. It is our hope that more opportunities for real-world application, more industry recognized certifications and more hands-on training in the Bistro will encourage more students to complete the program.”

Brianne Langdon, the new teacher, is a proud mom and an Aggie. She said, “The greatest reward is seeing that ‘light bulb’ come on for a student when we are working in the kitchen. I also love seeing how proud they are… when they create something they’ve never made before.”  

Langdon said, “These classes are important to our community and our kids, because they learn practical life skills that apply to the tourism industry, as well as how to feed themselves! It’s alarming how many young people don’t know how to cook when they graduate high school. We help prepare them for real life. Most kids think food just comes from the store. I want them to know where it comes from and how it ends up in their kitchen, so they can give the ingredients the respect they deserve.”

After 20 years of traveling with her career Air Force husband, Allen is glad to be back home in Texas. Her daughter is a sophomore at her alma mater, Texas Tech University. She feels blessed to be teaching at GHS. “My students are the BEST! They are curious, enthusiastic about learning new skill sets, and have a good work ethic. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has a bad day. But overall, my students see the opportunity through the classroom door and they are hungry to get in the kitchen and show me what they know. They are all amazing kids, and I truly feel fortunate to have this opportunity to share my passion with them. When they succeed, I succeed. As I tell them frequently, ‘You are a reflection of your family, your school, your community and me. Make good choices.’ They know I have their back. Even after graduation, I’m still there for them.”

Teaching is rewarding, but it can also be demanding. Langdon says consistency is her biggest challenge. “I have so many classes, sometimes it’s hard to make sure we are getting everything done in the exact same way or that we didn’t miss something.”

Allen discusses the difficulty of making someone want to learn when they feel like they’re ‘stuck’ somewhere. “Today’s students have so much exposure to the world. Many of them only see the success of others and never stop to think how much it took to get there. When they hit a roadblock, sometimes they quit. And then apathy strikes. That’s why as teachers, we are always ‘ON’—looking for solutions, fighting for our students’ successes and praying every day they realize they are amazing!”

Thanks to the GISD Education Foundation and the citizens of Hood County for passing the bond that made this wonderful program possible for GISD High School students.