- Associated Press - Monday, February 19, 2018

WAHPETON, N.D. (AP) - Several culinary arts students from the North Dakota State College of Science worked with cafeteria staff at Breckenridge High School in Minnesota on a dish served to the high school’s students recently.

The partnership was part of the Chefs Move to Schools program, which brings hands-on culinary training directly to school cafeterias. Partnership 4 Health dietitian Karensa Tischer, the culinary students and the high school’s kitchen staff hosted the tasty training featuring a unique blend of roasted vegetables, packed with flavor and nutrients but free of salt.

NDSCS culinary instructor Kyle Armitage said this was his first experience with the Chefs Move to Schools program.

Coming up with a menu item that would both follow federal nutritional guidelines for students and also be interesting and appetizing to students was the challenge Armitage, Tischer and Stephanie Beyer, food service director at Breckenridge Public Schools, were facing.

“Chefs have a different perspective on food,” Armitage joked. “We visited about it last (school) year but it never quite fit. Finally this year we were able to do the pilot program. Karensa works with a lot of the schools in the area so we thought, let’s start with Breckenridge and see where this goes.”

Armitage said Beyer was able to identify what he calls limitations for the dish, due to the guidelines the schools have to follow.

“One of the big things they like to watch is the amount of salt you add, so we had the ability to season with herbs and spices and exclude the salt,” he explained. “One thing we did was use parmesan cheese, which is kind of naturally salty anyway. There was a few of the guidelines they need to follow, which for me seemed restrictive, but for them, it’s the daily work they do.”

He said the intent was to increase offerings to give students an opportunity to sample something new. They looked at the school’s menu for that day, which included Italian items such as pizza and cheese bread, and decided to incorporate a root vegetable dish to go along with it.

The culinary students learned how to use kitchen equipment that was different from what they have at NDSCS and they communicated with the high school staff about what they were doing.

“It was kind of an opportunity for us to be in their facility, for them to see what we do and to visit with us,” Armitage said.

The culinary students worked the cafeteria line, and one, a Breckenridge High School graduate, enjoyed the chance to see some former classmates. High school students gave their feedback to the culinary students, too, the Daily News reported .

“We heard all of it, kids being kids, they’re not always vegetable conscious. It’s not their favorite. We heard everything. Some comments were great, they loved it and some was, ‘you know, probably not going to be on my list every day.’ The idea was to expose them to it,” he said.

Armitage said he hopes the school kitchen staff was inspired to try new things and step out of their comfort zones, noting they have a tremendous job to do on daily basis.

Internships are part of the two-year culinary arts program at NDSCS, and every student is different. Armitage and his staff work with each student individually to determine where their passion and interest lies.

“We focus on who they are, and not every student is going to be the same. They’re not going to have the same goals. They’re not going to have same skills,” he said.

Some students choose to go into catering, others fine dining.

“If you’re thinking health care, there’s an avenue for that. There’s a lot of opportunities,” he said.

Internships are completed during the summer months and some students work locally in the Southern Red River Valley, while others travel across the country for their training. Armitage said he first asks the students where they want to be for those three months.

“We have establishments where there’s housing available. The last couple of years, for example, we’ve been working with Keystone Resorts in Colorado and we’ve got students the last few summers out in Colorado and we kind of fostered that relationship,” he said, noting the students still have to go through the interview process, whether on Skype or another way, and apply.

“We also have students who do it all on their own. Last summer we had two students who went to Grand Forks. We had a student in Washington, D.C., one in Florida, a couple in Fargo. It was a neat cross section of where our students went,” Armitage said.

Before graduation, all the students typically have jobs lined up, but they’re not “chefs.” That comes with years of experience.

“For our purposes, a chef is in charge of the kitchen, the head of everything that goes on. When they graduate from our program, they have a long ways to go. We’re there to build those skills, practice those skills over and over and develop those skills, from the business side to the personal side to the technical side of it,” he said.

Some students may be passionate about cake decorating, or meat cutting, or the management side or even the service side.

“There’s a ton of different directions they can go,” he said.

Armitage said his program works hard to stay active in the community. His students help with community events, weddings, corporate events, fundraisers and even church functions and the food pantry.

“We want to be known in the community, that’s our big thing. Everybody thinks the chef is cool, he has the big white hat, but you’d be surprised at how many times we hear, ‘I didn’t know NDSCS had a culinary program.’ So, my goal as a rule is to make sure that’s never said again.”

One way the community can try out food prepared by the culinary arts students is to take advantage of the special dining events held at the River Valley Inn at NDSCS.

It runs most Tuesday and Thursday evenings in January through March, Armitage said, and is by reservation only.

“It’s essentially a restaurant. Each week the menu changes and new students are in charge each week,” he explained. “But it’s a full-service restaurant. Students seat guests, cook, serve, clear plates, wash, and everything in the middle. It’s a restaurant that’s also a classroom, too. They aren’t professionals yet, but it’s a great experience for the students, it’s as real world as we can make it.”

In addition, the culinary competition team has been practicing hard, preparing for the Central Region American Culinary Federation Student Competition, held in Madison, Wisconsin.

For high school students interested in going into a culinary arts program, a culinary camp is held June 10-14 at NDSCS for students age 16 or older who have aspirations of a career in the culinary profession.

The four-day camp will allow students to work in a professional kitchen and learn about new ingredients used in restaurants, French knife skills, food garnishing techniques, how baking ingredients work together to create breads, pastries and desserts. There will also be a chance to challenge fellow campers in the Iron Chef competition.

“A lot of stuff is going on all the time,” Armitage concluded.


Information from: Wahpeton Daily News, http://www.wahpetondailynews.com

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