Culinary teachers spark the joy of cooking for teens
October 12, 2017
By Laurie Struna
The scent of freshly baked waffles fills the advanced culinary classroom at Mountain View High School. Teacher Loren Saulsby grades his students’ work one bite at a time. The former restaurateur shares his passion for food while teaching students to be self-sufficient and independent thinkers in the kitchen.
“Students learn life skills in my classroom,” Saulsby says. “Whether they cook for their parents, college roommates or, one day, their own families, cooking is a practical skill they can take with them everywhere in life.”
From julienne to chiffonade, students receive a solid understanding of food, and different cooking and baking methods. Students learn the importance of keeping a clean kitchen, mastering chopping skills, identifying meat cuts and various cooking methods.
Five years ago, the program consisted of three classes. Today, more than 350 students in eight classes enjoy learning to bake breads, stir-fry delicacies and make pasta. Students put their skills on display for the community in a variety of ways. Culinary students help feed the 200-member Toro marching band on traveling football game days. This tall order includes 400 pancakes, 50 pounds of bacon and 500 cookies. Students give back to the community during Thanksgiving by baking and donating 130 pies to St. Vincent de Paul.
Chef Jen Pearl, culinary arts teacher at Red Mountain High School, spent more than 16 years in the industry. Her resume includes executive chef and general manager positions, and for the past two years, she has inspired students at Dobson and Red Mountain high schools to enjoy the art of cooking. Students learn skills like budgeting and shopping for groceries and meal planning, developing a new respect for people who put food on restaurant tables.
“I have always wanted to teach culinary arts,” Pearl says. “Cooking is like life. It isn’t perfect, and sometimes you have to improvise for your dish to turn out. I want my students to know that lessons can be learned and mistakes can be fixed.”
Students are eager to engage and innovate. They are hands-on and take their dishes to the next level. Later this month, culinary students will put their catering skills to the test by providing hors d’oeuvres and cupcake selections for a wedding.
Culinary arts is one of several programs of study offered through the Mesa Public Schools Career and Technical Education department. Learn more at mpsaz.org/cte.