The Culinary Arts Program at Castaic Middle School is giving its students a commanding lead in the culinary arts direction, following Julia Child’s famous saying, “People who love to eat are always the best people,” with a twist of showing what to eat and how to cook.
In the Culinary Arts Program, headed by teacher Karen Cowell, her classes not only dispel myths about food but also teach her students the essentials of food from portion sizing and shopping for correct ingredients by looking at labels.
More timely current event topics are also covered, like the positive and negative issues concerning genetically modified food, or GMO, food-borne illnesses and preventing cross contamination.
The Culinary Arts Program has had stops and starts over its eight year history, but seems to have found its footing now that the classes at the Castaic Middle School have been expanded to 90 minute sessions.
Assistant Principal Sarah Delawder has noticed that the ability to do an entire project in the class, from prep to cooking to eating and cleanup has allowed the students a greater focus and retention on what they have learned in the classroom, much more so than breaking the class into shorter individual blocks that are the mainstay at other schools.
The year-long class, taught to seventh and eighth graders, covers everything across the full food gambit.
“The class teaches the students not just about nutrition and about being healthy about what they put in their bodies, but it also teaches them about how to follow directions, measurement, problem-solving, and a life skill,” said Cowell.
The Education Foundation has been very supportive, Cowell said, and she has written several grants and received parent donations over the years to keep the program alive, but it’s always a challenge.
“It’s a challenging program to run but it’s so fun and rewarding, and I love it when I see the kids years later and they say, ‘I’m still making that BBQ chicken pizza,’ or ‘I made waffles for my family this morning,’” said Cowell. “It also good that the kids develop a familiarity in the kitchen.”
The lessons learned in the Culinary Arts class are designed to benefit the student well past their school experiences, both in and out of the kitchen.
“We did a knife skills lab and the kids had never even held a knife before. That’s a life skill; you need to be able to know how to chop something and chop it properly, or know how to use a stove,” she said. “You should know how to turn a stove on or turn it off and how to use an oven correctly.”
When asked why more schools don’t have a class that will benefit its students for their entire life, Cowell said, “we are the only middle school in (the Castaic Union School District). This is very difficult to do at an elementary level because they don’t have a kitchen. We have limited things you can do on a hot plate. And quite frankly, funding a program like this is always challenging because it’s all consumables.”
But Cowell adds, “How can this not be a fun class? You get to eat your education. And when they make a mistake, they get to eat that too.”
To donate food or funding to the program, you can contact the Castaic Middle School Principal Bob Brauneisen here, or the Castaic Union School District.
| Chas Hoard