The smell of pancakes and fresh baked cookies filled the air of the Scout Building in North Fork last week as students of Chawanakee Culinary Arts Institute busily baked up a variety of culinary delights as part of their high school education.
This is the school's first year and was the brainchild of now retired Chawanakee Unified School District Superintendent Stephen Foster. The program is open to juniors and seniors. They take their core curriculum classes at Minarets High School and attend the culinary program in exchange for all other electives.
Current Superintendent Bob Nelson said it's important for the district to have alternative career education, especially with so many hospitality industries in the area.
Cory Faysal is the chef instructor for the culinary arts program.
"She's the right person to lead that program," Nelson said. "She's taken it by the horns and is creating a new reality for the kids which is exciting."
Faysal herself is what she calls "product" of the Chawanakee district. She attended North Fork Elementary and graduated from Sierra High School. After completing her education at The California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Faysal worked at Erna's Elderberry House for two years, then moved to San Luis Obispo where she worked as a chef at Indigo Moon for another two years, as well as running her own catering business and conducting food demonstrations. She then began working as an instructor for Paso Robles High School's ROP culinary arts program and also taught at Cuesta Community College for eight years. She also did a little food writing and was published in Mothering magazine.
However, Faysal says her home has always been in the mountains so she moved back to North Fork along with her husband, Fred, and daughters Ellissa, 4, and 20-month-old Nadia. Soon she learned about the teaching position at Chawanakee and was hired.
Faysal says she just enjoys teaching and also thought the culinary arts school would be a big benefit to the district by enabling students to get jobs in the food industry right out of high school. Students will leave the program with certificate similar to one they'd receive at a community college. If students decided to attend culinary school after high school graduation, Faysal said they'll be ahead of the curve and perfecting their cooking skills instead of just learning them for the first time.
Because Faysal has a passion for nutrition, she teachers her students the French way of cooking a recipe, then shows them how to cook it a healthier way and tries to incorporate organic foods. Faysal starts out teaching students cooking basics such as math, terminology, measurements, safety and sanitation, and professionalism. After students have mastered the basics, they move on to culinary fundamentals such as sauces, starches, meats, grains, vegetables, vegetarian dishes, international cooking, and baking and pastries. By the end of the year students will be creating their own recipes.
"It's the coolest school opportunity the district has offered," said senior Karli Marino, 17.
The only complaint she has about the program is that it didn't begin earlier in her high school career. Marino says she decided to join the program and learn how to cook because her mother always complains that she doesn't help out with dinner. Now she's impressing her mom with her culinary delights.
"I made bomb peanut butter cookies the other day that my mom loved," Marino said.
Minarets junior Chelsi Hoffermann, 16, says she has been interested in a cooking career since she was a child, but said the results of her endeavors were lacking something.
"It always looks hideous and no one wants to eat it, so I want to learn how to make it look better," Hoffermann said.
Her favorite thing to cook are savory foods and she plans on studying business so she can open her own restaurant someday.
"I just enjoy cooking," Hoffermann said. "It's fun for me."
Minarets junior Brandon Laurence, 16, says he is naturally good at cooking, but has enjoyed expanding his culinary knowledge since joining the program. He said he's been interested in culinary school for a while and has been asking Principal Michael Niehoff about a culinary program since he was a freshman.
"I know my future is going to revolve around it," said Laurence, who plans on also opening a restaurant someday. "I like cooking and like seeing people's facial expressions when they taste something I've made. It's satisfying."
Nelson says he hopes to the program grow and eventually move to a commercial kitchen at Minarets where students can open a cafe.
"It's something that's really relevant to today's culture and inspiring to kids," Nelson said.