Cy-Fair ISD students get things cooking with culinary program

January 25, 2018 GMT

Students dressed in cooking aprons surrounded by cake pans, blenders, and utensils are the usual scene for culinary students in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Culinary classes are open to students beginning their sophomore year.

“It’s really important to have students that are interested in the culinary and hospitality field, and this is a place where they can try it out now,” said Mark Williams, CFISD culinary curriculum coordinator. “They can learn and develop their skills and go on to get a job or continue their education. It’s a great opportunity for our students. We have a great group of culinary instructors, and they are very passionate about their job.”

District wide there are 650 high school students in various levels of culinary classes. To give students an introduction to the culinary field, Cy-Fair ISD middle schools offer family consumer science classes, which is an introduction to field. Additionally, even though exploring foods and fabrics is not a part of the culinary program, the class incorporates nutrition and cooking and also introduces students a taste of the culinary world as well.

High school students choose an endorsement path, which is a plan of study that is a career pathway that includes concentrations that teach automotive and welding skills.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills decide on the culinary curriculum. Course work includes students learning about nutrition and preparing foods in the kitchen that include breads, desserts, poultry, and dairy. This month, the district held its first annual Cy-Fair ISD Cupcake Battle at the Berry Center; the event featured 40 entries from 12 Cy-Fair ISD high schools. Culinary students from Cypress Woods and Cy-Fair high schools took home first place prizes in their respective competition groups at the event. Cupcakes were baked at the students’ home and then taken to the Berry Center to be judged.

“Education is great and we want to get the students more engaged. One way of getting the students engaged is for them to compete,” Williams said. “Whether they are competing against themselves at their home campus or competing against other high schools, it’s exciting to see how competitive they are against each other.”

Industry professionals from Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts, retired culinary teachers, and Cy-Fair ISD staff members judged students at the event.

Cupcakes were evaluated based on overall taste and design, as well as, subcategories including best cake, best frosting, unique flavor, most technical technique, and presentation.

First through third place awards were given in both the Advanced Culinary Arts, which is a course for second-year students, and Culinary I categories.

Amongst other student winners in various categories and levels, Cy-Fair High School sophomore Noah Jasik placed first in the Culinary I division with his wining chocolate cupcake with peppermint buttercream frosting and ganache. Jasik’s winning prize was a KitchenAid mixer.

“I started liking cooking around 9-years old, and it just went further from there. I like baking more than cooking. I was very surprised when I won because I did the presentation last minute, but I guess my cupcake was really good,” Jasik said. “When they announced I was a winner, I thought I was in a dream. It’s important for schools to have culinary programs because you can get into it at an early age. Culinary schools are really expensive and here you can get to know if you like it or not.”

Levels of the culinary program include culinary arts, advanced culinary, and culinary practicum.

The first level for the culinary arts class is described as teaching the fundamentals and principles of the art of cooking and the science of baking and includes management and production skills and techniques.

Advanced Culinary Arts aims to enhance skills introduced in Culinary Arts I. Students learn topics such as professionalism, employability, restaurant sustainability, global cuisines, advanced baking and pastry principles.

In culinary practicum, the course provides occupationally specific opportunities for students to participate in a learning experience that combines classroom instruction with actual business and industry career experiences. Students explore the history of the food service industry, entry to the job market, and prepare and facilitate catering events.

Students further along in the culinary path can take classes at Cy-Fair High School and Cy-Park High School because those campuses serve as practicum locations where students have access to a full commercial kitchen.

District culinary students also have the opportunity to earn a certification that offers food safety training and certification exams created by foodservice professionals.

Next month, at the district’s livestock show and sale, each school will have students walking around with food samples using goat, rabbit, or lamb as a way of marketing the culinary program.

Kara Palermo is the Cy-Fair Culinary Academy East Instructor and has served 28 years as being a culinary teacher.

“It’s important to have culinary programs in high schools because everyone can be successful. A student can be successful at washing dishes, cutting vegetables, reading recipes and helping with math,” Palermo said. “In this class no matter what level you are, the student can truly be successful. In this class, every person has a place and a purpose. They can feel good about it [too].”

Palermo recalls decades ago that the culinary teaching field originally placed an emphasis on mass-producing food. Then Palermo realized culinary field evolved throughout the years and progressed to becoming and art. She enjoys teaching her students the importance of presentation and quality of food. For Palermo, culinary class has created a more than just sweet treats and delicious meals, but the classes based on food have created a close-knit community.

“I enjoy being a culinary instructor because I’m teaching kids who really want to be here; they chose to be here,” Palermo said. “It really makes it so much fun. When students go off to college, they get so excited and send me pictures of what they are doing. It’s like we have become a family. “The culinary program has been my life.”