- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2002

Chefs de cuisine come in many forms from many places, but it is a safe bet that not many have come out of a public high school.
That may change as more and more students join a program called ProStart, a school-to-career initiative begun five years ago that still is taking root in various high schools across the country. The program was started by the Hospitality Business Alliance (HBA), an educational partnership formed by the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
To date, Maryland has 22 ProStart schools with 606 students enrolled, and Virginia, in its first year of participation, has six, with 159 enrollees. (The District is not yet fully involved.) One participating school, Montgomery County's Thomas Edison High School of Technology, has 36 students enrolled in a two-year restaurant management course under the direction of Teresa Smith, an experienced chef.
Ms. Smith, 45, who is called "Chef Smith" in the classroom, has been a professional cook locally as well as in Switzerland and the Caribbean. She spent the past two years getting certified to be a teacher. This is the result, she says, of "wanting students to have the opportunity I had in life."
Early on, she decided that college was not for her but that "being around food made me happy and satisfied me completely."
The idea behind ProStart is that exposure to a serious and well-considered training program that includes both theoretical and practical approaches gives a head start to young people interested in a hospitality career, whether in food preparation or on the business end as managers or restaurant owners.
The curriculum, which has its own textbook, is designed under auspices of the HBA, with competitive college scholarships provided by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). Among the star graduates of the program, touted by the Chicago-based HBA, are a young man now employed by one of that city's best-known chefs, Charlie Trotter, and a young woman who was the only female in her graduating class at the Culinary Institute of America.
More than 24,000 high school juniors and seniors now study restaurant and food-service management at 661 schools in 36 states, according to the NRAEF.
"In eight more years, we are going to need 13 million more people in our industry," says Steven Anderson, president of the Washington-based National Restaurant Association, responding to a question about the need for such a program in a time of an economic downturn.
"Our growth rate is the envy of most industries," he says. " A lot of people lose track of the fact that corporate chain restaurants do have the same jobs that any other corporation has legal, accounting, et cetera. [ProStart] gives kids a leg up. This is a career and not just a job, which is the strength of this program."
One of Edison's most ambitious students is Jordan Shulman, 18, of Olney, who spends his day moving among three worlds. Early each weekday morning, he reports to his so-called home school, Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, for several hours of instruction in conventional academic subjects. He then drives to Edison in Silver Spring for an equal number of hours learning the culinary arts. Several evenings a week and part of the weekend, he spends up to a total of 20 hours working in the kitchen at the Inn at Brookeville Farms just north of Olney.
He gets paid for his work $7 an hour which isn't a bad enticement, either.
How and when he manages homework along with his favorite athletic activity playing golf is a mystery, but to date his parents are fully behind his choices. He also finds time to watch the Food Network on cable television and names Jamie Oliver as one of his favorite celebrity chefs.
"It's very beneficial and makes school worthwhile, especially if the student has direction," says his mother, Deborah Shulman. "He has been interested in chefs for as long as I can remember." She calls this particular Edison program "the best-kept secret in the school."
During the summer, the burgeoning chef, who talks about owning a restaurant one day, worked in a local pizza parlor making pizzas. Employment at the inn is a step up and should give him a leg up on his applications to either Johnson & Wales University, a well-respected culinary training institute in Providence, Rhode Island, or the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia. The two are his main choices at the moment for a professional college.
From all reports, Mr. Shulman is a natural in his chosen profession. Ms. Smith praises his enthusiasm and leadership skills. Chef Paul Hajewski of the Inn at Brookeville Farms, where Mr. Shulman started as a dishwasher and now helps with peeling potatoes and vegetables for stock, praises his "positive attitude" and notes that "I'm sure he would be more than ready to go onto the hot line in a year or so, but he has to start from the bottom, like everyone else."
Confidence exudes from Mr. Shulman's sturdy frame and demeanor when he stands in his apron, white chef's hat called a toque and monogrammed jacket before a stove or prep table in Edison's large classroom kitchen. Occasionally, he wears a black-and-white T-shirt emblazoned with the word "chef" under his working uniform.
"I love to eat," Mr. Shulman says. "Who doesn't?"
He also blithely admits that he is a cut above some others in the class and knows what a professional chef has to endure to survive. "I can handle it," he says. Ideally, after college, he wants a job "in a big city like Philadelphia or New York, where there are restaurants every two feet."
Some of his fellow students signed up for the course thinking it would be easy, he says, but for him, "the program taught me more than anything else. It's not all book work."
His interest in cooking started when he was 5, he says, when his father worked in a nursing home in New York state as a food service manager. "I loved to watch people cook, and I mostly taught myself," the youth says. "I just found recipes I liked and started cooking."
Each student pays a $100 lab fee at the beginning of the year, which helps cover the cost of materials, including the jacket that spells out each participant's name in script. Students are expected to keep their hats and jackets clean and ready for each day's kitchen training session, which follows a 20-minute to 30-minute period in a conventional classroom across the hall from the kitchen.
One recent Thursday, the class work involved a review of conversion factors figuring the amounts of food necessary for a given number of people. The day's cooking class for the curriculum's second-level students was learning to make pie dough, with Ms. Smith creating a model crust while quizzing the class on such matters as why butter as well as shortening is part of the recipe. ("Butter gives it flavor and texture," answered one student correctly.) Each student then attempted to copy their teacher's model. Ms. Smith critically regarded each sample of flat, round dough, not hesitating to ask for improvement on less-than-perfect results.
Lessons include nutrition, hygiene and sanitation studies that students are expected to apply in the kitchen daily, since the premises are subject to regular review by local government health inspectors. (So far, the school has passed.)
Apart from a stray spoon on the floor, the room appears remarkably clean for a high-energy crowd of students, as many as 18 of whom are working together at one time. They are evaluated for their teamwork skills as well as their food-handling abilities.
Student lunchtime is in the late morning and precedes the class, so the tantalizing odors of the food they prepare shouldn't tempt them unmercifully. Raw pie dough is one thing, but the Thursday session also involved preparation of a sausage and spinach strata, a casserole dish the class was making for 40 high school guidance counselors who were to meet for breakfast at Edison the next day.
Onions had to be diced "medium" and then sauteed. Packages of frozen spinach had to be thawed and squeezed of excess water. Crusts had to be removed by hand from pieces of sliced white bread. Bulk sausage was sauteed in large black frying pans and drained of excess fat. Eggs and milk were whisked together. A large exhaust fan hummed throughout, and enticing aromas surrounded the crew as Ms. Smith cautioned them to "make sure the spinach is squeezed as much as possible."
Profits from a sale of baked goods that students prepare around Thanksgiving and Christmas will go for buying extra equipment and for new cookbooks and videos. Some, if not most, of the recipes for the sale are suggested by the class.
Just under half of the students now enrolled are expected to apply to a culinary college.
Chefs will emerge from the program in many forms: One 17-year-old who considers herself "more of a baker" wants to find work on a cruise ship that will allow her to travel and save money at the same time. Another student says he simply wants to learn the rudiments so that one day he might be able to cook for a wife and family. One former student and graduate of the program went on to culinary school before joining the Coast Guard, where she has a job cooking for officers.

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