- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In 1995, 20 D.C. high schools worked with a successful nonprofit for culinary education. This fall, the vocational training program is scheduled to work with two.

The Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a curriculum-enrichment program that gives teacher training, equipment and scholarships and hosts student cooking competitions, is being slowly cut from D.C. schools, even as a film touting the success of the program in Philadelphia opens this week in the District.

The independent film “Pressure Cooker” features educator Wilma Stephenson’s culinary “boot camp” and three of her students’ journeys to college and scholarships through the C-CAP program. It will run at the E Street Theatre for one week, starting Friday.

Meanwhile, the District’s C-CAP program has been steadily dwindling. In the 2006-07 school year, eight schools participated. In 2007-08, six. And in 2008-09, three. This fall, Ballou High School in Southeast will have a nighttime culinary class, and Roosevelt High School in Northwest will be the only remaining daytime culinary arts program in the District.

Iris Wilson coordinates D.C. Public Schools’ Academy of Hospitality and Tourism, a career-training program that operates within schools, including Roosevelt. She said the C-CAP decline results from budget cuts, funding, teacher availability and the city’s emphasis on reading and math.

“A lot of it is funding. Culinary arts is what we call a big-ticket item,” she said. “If you’re not going to have the latest technology involved in working with these industries, you’re really doing these students a disservice.”

But as other D.C. schools cut their C-CAP classes, the nonprofit will move into 11 Prince George’s County schools, starting this fall. C-CAP founder and President Richard Grausman said the county’s programs will help C-CAP stay in the area until the District is able to participate again.

Troy Williams is the C-CAP program coordinator for D.C. and Prince George’s County. He said D.C. schools’ career preparation now operates on a different vision.

“I just feel D.C. has a lot of other focuses right now, other than culinary,” he said.

The D.C. culinary classes will now be more narrowly focused and rigorous. Mr. Grausman sees that as a problem.

“[D.C. schools] took on curriculum from different organizations that was beyond what their teachers could teach and their students could learn. We have been saying for years, that for inner-city schools, where their budget is nonexistent or very small, that teachers should focus on giving their students the ability to get entry-level jobs.”

He said high school culinary classes need to focus on “soft skills” — initiative, punctuality, teachability — and basic industry knowledge, such as sanitation, knife skills and identification of products and equipment.

“They need to be a realistically achievable package,” Mr. Grausman said, adding that the pressure to have larger curriculums and larger recipe lists pushes up the costs of programs.

Ms. Wilson doesn’t deny that a more rigorous curriculum is also more expensive, but she said, “Our students can and have stepped up to the challenge.”

To make sure D.C. students have the latest technology at Roosevelt, the school district installed a $1.5 million facility that included a full-scale commercial kitchen, a bakery, a 100-seat cafe and a mock hotel lobby complete with front desk and an industry-standard guest-registration system.

The D.C. program now pushes students to graduate with both a high school diploma and professional certification, which Ms. Wilson says chefs increasingly need to enter the industry. Thus, the tougher curriculum.

“If you’re a slacker here, you’re not going to make it, because it’s too competitive,” she said.

Basia Davis,18, made it. She graduated from Roosevelt this year with an $80,000 scholarship to Johnson and Wales University’s culinary program in Charlotte, N.C. She won the money through a cooking competition hosted by C-CAP, and that made college an attainable goal.

“It took a big burden off of my family’s shoulders,” she said.

Miss Davis competed in several culinary contests across the nation this year. She said the lack of competitors in the District made it harder to hone her skills. She and her classmates had to practice against one another.

“It’s hard to master your field against somebody when you’re going against your friend,” she said.

She said she hopes the District doesn’t continue to cut culinary education “because that’s a great opportunity for us.”

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