The Culinary Arts Department at Pitman High School has already made a name for itself over the years as a program that produces students ready to work in the restaurant industry, and now the campus has a state-of-the-art kitchen to match.
Students set foot in the new Culinary Arts facility for the first time Tuesday, organizing pots and pans to use on commercial range stoves, placing spices on shelves in the walk-in pantry and taking in the expansive new space that’s sure to provide a world of opportunity for aspiring chefs.
“This isn’t the old, small kitchen anymore — it’s like you’re in a restaurant and you’re cooking amazing dishes with an amazing teacher,” PHS senior Donovan Herrera said.
Culinary Arts instructor Mohini Singh has fostered a culture on campus that appreciates all things cuisine; her students often host lunches for teachers and administration and food made by the Culinary Arts Department is often featured at district-wide events. With her experience curating different spices and meals at downtown restaurants Bistro 234 and First & Main, Singh knows firsthand what a restaurant-worthy kitchen consists of and played an instrumental role in designing the new facility.
“It’s just so exciting for the kids to learn in this environment. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing this is,” Singh said. “We decided to create a space that is a true industry-standard kitchen along with a learning classroom.”
Funded by Bond Measure O, construction on the Culinary Arts facility began in September as part of a larger, campus-wide modernization project that also saw security fencing installed and a new front office built.
The culinary space looks just like a kitchen that would be found in a restaurant, except at PHS, the stoves and appliances face a classroom-sized audience. Cameras pointing at each surface capture Singh’s every movement, whether she’s teaching the class how to whisk an egg or showing them which knife slices the best, and the video playback is displayed on television monitors facing the students. The culinary classroom also includes a scullery where aprons, towels and dishes can be washed, and soon, an outdoor patio will house tables, chairs and a garden.
“Mohini had some really good ideas on how we could make this identical to an industry-standard kitchen where the kids can learn the skills they need to go out into the next level, whether they want to become a culinary student or just jump right into it,” PHS Principal Angela Freeman said. “This is truly like being in a real restaurant and a real kitchen, so I think it’s going to open students’ eyes a little more to see if it’s something they’re really interested in.”
Even when the Culinary Arts Department called a much smaller kitchen on campus home, students were able to watch their skills flourish. Some students have gone on to work at restaurants like Crust & Crumb, Bistro 234 and First & Main, and senior Sophia Anderson got a job at Olde Tyme Pastries after completing an internship through Culinary Arts. Now, she hopes to earn another internship — this time, in a restaurant — and knows the new kitchen will help her do so.
“I’m so excited. I’m just ready to see what I can create in the kitchen,” Anderson said. “It’s opened up a whole new world for us.”
Career Technical Education opportunities like the Culinary Arts Department are incredibly important when it comes to connecting students to potential jobs through the school district’s industry partners, Freeman said, as well as letting students know that there are plenty of career paths to pursue after high school.
“With spaces like the new kitchen, it becomes very real for students and helps them figure out what path they want to take in life...it opens their eyes to a lot of other opportunities than just that ‘everybody has to go to college’ approach,” Freeman said.
For Singh, connecting her students with the community is one of the most rewarding parts of her job, and the new kitchen will allow her to continue doing so. She plans on having industry partners come into the kitchen on a regular basis to give students an outside approach to the culinary arts, she said, as well as introduce them to some exotic dishes.
“We’re not just making grilled cheese sandwiches anymore...once these kids graduate my culinary class, they’ll be able to go right into the restaurant industry,” Singh said. “We want to build confidence in the kids that they now have a skill, and if nothing else they have a joy of cooking now and they’ve learned how to enjoy food.”
Through the month of February, the PHS Culinary Arts Department is hosting a cookbook drive to collect unwanted recipe collections from the community. Singh envisions the classroom’s future cookbook selection as an outlet for culinary creativity where students can find inspiration for new meals. Those interested in donating a cookbook can drop them off at the PHS campus or the Turlock Unified School District office.