by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The smell of onions was strong in the Central High School Family and Consumer Science (FACS) classroom last Thursday morning, but so was the wonderful aroma of hot soup.
Under the direction of FACS teacher Hilary Birdsell, 18 students cooked up some delicious soups before sampling them at the end of the hour.
Open to 10th through 12th graders a new semester-long culinary class, in its first year, gives juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credits and learn about the restaurant industry.
Students have also made quiche and chili and will soon tackle holiday meals, making portions of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Meeting every day, students generally are listening to a lecture one day, viewing a demonstration one day and cooking the other three days.
To begin teaching the class, Birdsell, in her seventh year teaching and fourth at Central, took intense week-long Prostart Culinary Training courses over the summer, supported by a scholarship she earned.
Thus far she has completed the first two levels of the course, completing level one in Orlando, Fla., two summers ago and level two in Birmingham, Ala., this past summer. Upcoming levels include high-end recipes and a overall view.
“It’s a lot of networking and I get ideas from other states,” she said. “It’s a pretty intense week,”
It is paying off for Birdsell and the students in the class as three of them have expressed interest in attending culinary school.
“This is a class designed for students who want to have careers in the restaurant industry,” she said. “It gives them experience they do not start busing tables and are more in the kitchens.”
Lectures and demonstrations also encourage real-life skills and healthy eating. For example, students talk about how to make meals healthier, by using margarine instead of butter or skim milk instead of whole milk called for in some recipes.
“This gives them those skills to cook at home and have that fine dining experience,” she said.
Chef’s hats and coats are provided by grants as are the cooking materials for the class, which Birdsell prepares some of which ahead of time.
“I divide out what recipe has and what’s in it,” she said.
In addition to cooking, students spent about three weeks on knife skills learning to chop, dice and mince to perfection and also spent time learning how to measure ingredients.
Students also put in the extra time for the first hour class, starting as much as 20 minutes early,
“The students really like it,” she said. “It’s challenging for them.”
Even with that extra time, Birdsell said she would probably make one of the food class another requirement as she also teaches FACS 7/8, four other foods classes at the high school, family lifeskills, interior design and child development, which also gives college credit.
Other aspects of the class include learning about the restaurant and food service industry, carving pumpkins and even working on plate preparation.
“I think it’s just an opportunity for them to think about the restaurant industry,” she said. “We talk about behind the scenes on how a restaurant works.”
Upcoming activities include field trips to the Art Institute and going to Crave in downtown Minneapolis and holiday meal preparation.
Of course. the added benefit is tasting what they’ve made. Last Thursday, students enjoyed their hot cheesy potato and french onion soups.
“It went really well,” she said. “They tried it and critiqued each other.”
For Birdsell, who started cooking with her mom and also as a 4-H’er, the class is something she wishes she had as a kid.
“I wanted to be able to offer this to students,” she said. “If I didn’t make it as a teacher, I would have gone to culinary school.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at email@example.com.