Though students in Pitman High School’s culinary program are used to creating new recipes and whipping up dishes in the classroom, they still have plenty to learn. There’s no better place to master the tricks of the trade than downtown Turlock, where some of the city’s most skilled chefs and successful business owners met with the Pride cooks Friday morning, eager to share their experience and, hopefully, inspire some of Turlock’s next restaurateurs.
Pitman’s culinary instructor Mohini Singh is no stranger to the restaurant business, having been in the industry for 15 years as both a sauce and spice specialist and as a chef. In her first year teaching a Career Technical Education course at Pitman, Singh wanted to educate students about the business aspect of culinary arts, prompting a downtown field trip to visit with the owners and chefs at Bistro 234, La Mo Café and Crust & Crumb Pizza.
“I wanted to show our CTE students that everything we learn in class is actually what is happening in downtown Turlock,” said Singh. “We hope this inspires them to say, ‘Oh, I can go and get an internship downtown come spring, or I could potentially go and work for one of these restaurants one day.’”
The students’ first stop of the day was La Mo, where co-owners and sisters Hillary Smith and Brityn Butrick shared with students the story of their restaurant’s launch in 2011, and the hard work and dedication that has gone into their business endeavor since. Students also received helpful tips about careers in the restaurant industry, and the importance of putting passion into their work.
At Crust & Crumb, owner George Kosmas showed students not only how the restaurant makes its own bread and pizza, but also the importance of creating quality products with ingredients customers can trust.
“If you’re going to be in the food industry, you need to really cook with real food,” said Kosmas. “There’s no pulling stuff that’s already made out of bags.”
Fresh ingredients are a frequent part of the students’ culinary curriculum, said Singh, with the school district’s farm providing a harvest of produce used to make salsas, sandwiches, desserts and more that, eventually, students will sell to Pitman staff in the school’s re-launched Pride Café. Throughout the selling process, students also learn how to package and market their own products, she added.
“We want to give our kids the best opportunities that they could possibly have,” said Singh. “Turlock Unified School District is excited about CTE courses, so I want to do everything as a new teacher to make my school proud.”
Kosmas appreciated Singh’s effort to get her students out in the real world to receive hands-on experience, he said.
“This is a great vocational opportunity for students to learn from us before they go into the culinary world,” said Kosmas. “You don’t see them doing that in schools too often anymore.
At Bistro 234, students nibbled on peanut butter pie, and even received a tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and wine cellar. Owner partner Leroy Walker also tried to prepare the students for the struggles that come with owning a restaurant.
“The restaurant industry is a prosperous business, but it’s really hard work,” said Walker. “And if you want to be successful in the restaurant industry, you have to know everything, from how to wash the dishes to the business aspect of things.”
Despite the amount of work Walker said owning a restaurant requires, student Alex Carr wasn’t deterred in his plans to one day open up a traditional Italian restaurant in Turlock. He learned a lot during his downtown excursion with his classmates, he said, but the most valuable lesson, he said, was to never give up.
“It was cool to see all of the local businesses and how they got where they are today. It takes hard work and ambition, and for them it paid off,” said Carr. “They’ve taught me to never give up, because the restaurant business isn’t as easy as you think it is.”