A majority of people – both before and after they graduate from high school – will hold down some sort of job in the food service industry, even if it’s filling in orders at a fast food restaurant.
But some of those hospitality jobs can pay a considerably higher wage, and preparing for those jobs is what the Culinary Arts program at Carrizozo High School is all about.
Carol Wilson, Culinary Arts teacher at CHS, said it’s a popular program.
“It’s popular because the kids like to cook and eat,” Wilson said. “This is something they’ll learn and use for the rest of their lives.”
Currently, 14 kids are involved in the program, freshmen through juniors. That’s a lot of kids for a program at a school with as small an enrollment as Carrizozo.
That works out well for Wilson, because this is a program that relies entirely on fundraisers and catering events to keep it going. Not a penny comes from the school district.
“We do catering for local groups like the Cowbelles, the fire station, and work with Carrizozo Music, serving meals before their concerts,” Wilson said. “We’re making King Cakes for Mardis Gras, baking and decorating cookies for meetings, it’s great for us do get out there and cook for the community.”
Beyond actual food preparation, students are also learning the ins and outs of finances, being able to run a catering business on a limited budget.
“We train them in sanitation, safety, basics of cooking and serving, and budgeting,” Wilson said. “Cooking for a large group of people is challenging.”
Wilson has been involved with the Culinary Arts program for four years, and stated that the whole thing got started when Rosemary Shafer kicked it off around seven years ago.
Shafer had her work cut out for her, taking what was a 70s-era home economics kitchen and upgrading it to 21st-century culinary standards and regulations.
“This is a modern kitchen and we have to follow state guidelines,” Wilson said. “There really isn’t anything like home economics now, which is a little sad. But the things we learn for commercial kitchens work at home, too.”
Wilson stated Shafer used grant money to upgrade the kitchen to today’s standards, but now it’s up to the students to raise money almost on a daily basis to keep the program going.
That includes a morning frappacino kitchen to sell to students, breakfast and lunch burritos, and the serving and catering.
One of the more popular fundraisers are the cinnamon rolls, although those don’t usually sell until the spring, when the students have learned enough to make something that challenging.
That also brings up an important point – all the cooking, all the budgeting, everything done in that kitchen is done by the students. Wilson is really there just to facilitate things and make sure everything is done right.
“The kids have to work hard in this class,” Wilson said. “Because they have to raise money for everything.”
Besides catering and serving, students also raise money to attend cooking competitions, usually in Las Cruces or Albuquerque.
However, students Kaleia Dixon and Cheyanne Apodoca were able to attend a cake decorating contest in San Diego two years ago, as part of the Family Consumer Career Leaders of America (FCCLA), an organization similar to Future Farmers of America.
Wilson said teaching the students to cook and serve will save them money down the road. Instead of eating out all the time, they can shop for groceries and make meals for far less.
Also, cooking for yourself with fresh ingredients is far healthier.
While home economics and cooking was the purview of girls and women in the past, Wilson said things are much more egalitarian now.
“I have eight girls and six boys right now,” Wilson said. “However, in culinary arts, most of the best chefs out there are men. We’re trying to change that.”