Amid the polished metal of new convection ovens, gleaming knives and unblemished pans, culinary arts students at Lindhurst High are ready to sling dough, chop vegetables and braise meat for the first time in nine years.
The Lindhurst culinary arts classroom sprang to life this fall through a partnership with Yuba College and an injection of funding from the Marysville Joint Unified School District that restored the defunct facility.
"Normally you hear 'perfect storm' as a negative, but this one was a positive perfect storm," said Lindhurst Principal Bob Eckardt.
Since the culinary arts classes went away, bringing them back was near the top of the list every time the school asked students what electives they wanted the next year. Everything fell into place when MJUSD made funds available to expand elective courses and Yuba College approached the school about offering college courses on campus.
"The food industry is a growing industry in our area, locally and regionally," Eckardt said. "It fits the (Career Technical Education) because of that, and it's a great way to get kids exposure to see if it's something they want to do," Eckardt said.
Phase one of the kitchen remodel finished in early August, just in time for the new school year, and Yuba College associate instructor Tim Levitt arrived on campus to teach four high school classes and one course for college credit.
A second phase will bring the kitchen as close to professional grade using money from the $7.7 million California Career Pathways Trust grant awarded to a consortium of school districts and Yuba Community College District in May, Eckardt said.
About 70 students enrolled in the first semester of classes, including 23 in the college course, all of which are taught by Levitt, who began teaching at Yuba College eight years ago.
The high school courses are split into two sections, baking and culinary arts, and the college course is about basic food preparation. The classes are designed to teach most aspects of the food industry, not just as a career path but as a life skill and to help pay for college, Levitt said.
"There's a huge market for young students to go out and work in all types of positions in the restaurant industry, from waiting tables to cook positions," he said. "These classes reach a wide range of interests."
Levitt leverages ideas borrowed from cooking shows on television, which he attributes for much of the growing student interest, to teach students to be creative and artistic with the food.
"They get mystery ingredients, and they have to make something out of those ingredients," Levitt said. "They have to be creative — it's an art, that's why they call it culinary arts."
On Wednesday, he gave the students heavy cream for homemade butter as the secret ingredient as they made pasta with a red sauce.
The students will put their newfound culinary arts skills to the test Oct. 29 when they cater the inaugural Lindhurst High Hall of Fame Celebration.
Wheatland's kitchen rich with flavor
A short drive south on Highway 65 from Lindhurst, Wheatland High culinary arts instructor Kuulei Moreno hopes to some day pit her students against Yuba College associate instructor Tim Levitt's, as well as those from other schools in the area, in a culinary challenge in the spirit of the Academic Decathlon.
Moreno is no stranger to competition. Her students faced and beat several schools from the Sacramento area, and she was a finalist to be on FOX's "Hell's Kitchen" in 2008.
"We try to get them very involved in learning," Moreno said. "Kids need to be ready to help in the job field, whether they're working to get through college or becoming a chef."
The program operates out of a classroom attached to the school's cafeteria but will soon have a new home. A new student kitchen will allow Moreno to expand on the elaborate program already in place.
Moreno spent years working as a chef at hotels in Hawaii and helped open Recce Point Club at Beale Air Force Base before taking the job at Wheatland High 12 years ago.
On Oct. 30, Moreno's class is opening its first pop-up restaurant at City Grill in Wheatland, where the students will take control of every aspect of the restaurant from food preparation to restaurant management for one night.
The event is one of many hands-on learning experiences Moreno puts her pupils through. They cater events for the Rotary Club, run the school kitchen at lunch and create the menu for athletic events.
The lunch experience at Wheatland is unlike any 16-year-old Celeste Walsh experienced as she attended schools around the country while following her father, who is stationed at Beale.
"I've been to two high schools, and at the other one, there were just lunch ladies," Walsh said. "Here, the students help out and participate, and the food is a lot better, too."
Walsh joined Moreno's class last year and took the skills she learned back to North Carolina, where she spends her summers helping her grandmother, Marlene Jones, in a kitchen preparing food for between 200 and 300 homeless people.
"I knew a lot more about the tools and how to prepare food this time. I was a lot more efficient with my time," Walsh said. "It's an amazing thing to do, and I love it."
Walsh will graduate early at the end of the year and is considering a career focusing in culinary arts.
CONTACT Reporter Kirk Barron at 749-4796.