MARSHALL, Texas — Take a walk down the 200 hall at Marshall High School on any given day and you can smell the aroma of fresh garlic bread, or a variety of chicken or perhaps a spicy Tex-Mex. If you catch it at just the right time, you’re probably experiencing the result of students in Dina Blaylock’s Culinary Arts class cooking up another meal for an increasingly growing schedule of catering events.
That schedule this fall has included, among others, preparing meals for MISD’s school board, Maverick Stadium press box, and other school events. The Culinary Arts program may have been one of the best-kept secrets in MHS’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) program in recent years, but the light is now being shed on this ever-expanding avenue of opportunity for students.
Currently, twenty-two students – all juniors and seniors — make up MHS Culinary Arts. Their activities involve everything from analyzing costs purchasing ingredients to reading recipes to actual food preparation and catering.
“Within the Culinary Arts program, we do a lot of catering, a lot of hands-on, where the students are learning how to present, how to prepare and eventually working toward getting their (food handler) certification,” said Blaylock, who spent a career in restaurant management, training and nutrition prior to settling in as a culinary arts instructor. “The overall goal is so that when they graduate, they are certified so that whether they go to college to be in the culinary arts field or something else, they have the opportunity to have something where they can go and immediately go to work.”
Blaylock, in her second year as Culinary Arts instructor at MHS, already works with students who want to pursue a career as a chef or some other type of restaurant business. In Culinary Arts I and II offered at MHS, students not only learn the ins and outs of recipe preparation and catering presentation, but also the business aspect of running a food-oriented, service business.
“We’ve been cooking so much here at the beginning of the school year we haven’t really gotten into what goes into cost analysis, but that’s something we will eventually get to,” Blaylock said. “The cost analysis of, when they cook a recipe, they’re going to have to find out a cost for every ingredient in that recipe. That will teach them the basic business aspect. Right now, we are learning how to serve, how to set up, all those things that go into catering an event.”
Culinary Arts students have prepared meals and catered events such as the annual Valedictorian/Salutatorian luncheon in the spring in the past, but this year they have branched out within the district to include serving meals to the MISD school board during monthly school board meetings in the Administration Building. The students also have provided meals for personnel and media working the stadium press box during Maverick football games this fall, as well as preparing lunch for district and community officials in this past Thursday’s School Priority Tour which ended with a tour of MHS.
In each case, the students prepare a menu, analyze the recipe and cook the meal. They then set up for the meal, including setting the table and decorations, serve the meal and clean up after the meal.
As with any area of cooking, whether it be commercially or in the home, the ability to read a recipe is sometimes taken for granted, Blaylock said. One of the toughest aspects of the course, especially in the beginning, is learning exactly how to read a recipe. One slip up can ruin the entire meal before it ever gets started.
“One of the first things we look at in serving a group of people is, you have to look at a recipe and be able to convert it to feed a larger group of people in most instances,” Blaylock said. “For example, we are looking at recipes for the home because we don’t have standardized commercial recipe books. So a lot of times what I’m teaching them now is, you can take any recipe and put it into any group. We analyze the recipe, and then they have to tell me how many it serves, then if we know we’re going to serve 40 people we have to change the recipe to fit it to feed 40 people.”
Students are graded on several different areas of food preparation, including sanitation, safety, and cleanliness as well as how much improvement is made in each area.
“I have students who come into my class who tell me up front they’ve never read a recipe,” Blaylock said. “I kind of understand that, because I grew up with my mother never using a recipe. It’s a learned skill. If you can read a recipe, you can cook anything. But we don’t ever cook anything for an audience or group if we’ve never tried out the recipe before. Sometimes, not all recipes work right the first time. I’ve made those mistakes, and you learn to try it out first, and then serve.”
Making things tougher today in Culinary Arts than, say, 10 years ago, is the growing emphasis on health and nutrition, as well as knowing and being sensitive to those customers with food allergies.
“We do have a segment (in the curriculum) where we teach the importance of understanding that people are more health conscious today than ever before, so you have to be able to balance your menu,” Blaylock said. “If you’re the restaurant manager, you need to know what it in the item. People with allergies today, you have to know all these things. That’s where learning a basic knowledge of nutrition comes in.”
Right now, the Culinary Arts classroom in MHS serves as both a kitchen and small restaurant. It is not the ideal classroom for a Culinary Arts program, but Blaylock said her students make the best of what they have and are able to handle most of their requests.
“We’re really in a room that is set for basic homemaking, or an intro to foods type course,” she said. “I wish I had some other equipment, like a commercial stove or a grill or commercial fryer, things like that. A lot of times we have to use a regular pan for something, and it can make the room really smoky. Little by little, we’ve been getting the equipment that I want for our class. I do have a wish list and last year I got a lot of wishes granted, so I’ve been able to get a lot of what we need but there are more things I’d like to expand on what we can do in the future.”
In the end, Blaylock can see the enjoyment of the course from her students, and judging by the results of most of their projects and events, their quality of work continues to improve on a daily basis.
“I want to work with kids because I love to teach cooking, and foods, and I try to get kids to try new things,” she said. “I’ve had students who express to me that they want to become a chef. I’ve had two students this year who said their goal is to own their own pastry business. I had a student last year who wanted to be a chef in the military. So that’s the goal, is giving them the knowledge, tools and experience they need that once they graduate, they are one step ahead of other students who do not have the experience.”
Anyone interested in having the MHS Culinary Arts class cater an event, or to learn more information about the class, please contact Mrs. Blaylock at MHS at 903-927-8800.