Don't confuse cooking in high school today with the home economics classes of old. These days, students in Canyon Del Oro's culinary arts classes learn life skills and gain valuable job training in a recently renovated, commercial-grade kitchen, where some of Tucson's best-known chefs prepare sophisticated recipes and share their tips and expertise.
Last week, students in the advanced culinary arts class were treated to a cooking demonstration by Chef Amanda Lindquist of Azul at the Westin La Paloma. The menu? Pan-seared duck breast with a cranberry-cherry demi-glaze, served atop a gorgonzola risotto. Who cares if it's 8:30 in the morning?
Surrounded by about 25 students in white jackets, Chef Amanda prepared the dish from start to finish, liberally sprinkling her commentary with her own hard-earned secrets and answering questions about her experiences in the kitchen. While instructing the students, when searing meat, to put the 'display side' down first, she stressed proper preparation in order to avoid cross contamination. Asked about the importance of labeling items stored in the refrigerator, she reminded them there's no warning before a surprise inspection, and passed along her own rule of thumb — "When in doubt, throw it out."
Recommended reading? "Culinary Artistry." Favorite celebrity chef? An "old school" Julia Child.
The students, all juniors and seniors, jotted notes as Chef Amanda cooked, then broke into applause when she turned out the beautifully plated, finished dish. After sampling – more like devouring – the remaining entrees, they broke into small groups to create their own risottos.
Seniors Ana Timmis and Brigette Michel, who have taken culinary classes throughout their four years at CDO, plan to pursue cooking as a profession.
"This is going to be us," said Michel, smiling after Chef Amanda finished her demonstration.
"I like how she talks about how her line (kitchen staff) is like her family, and how passionate she is about cooking," Timmis said.
Senior Ben Gouveia expertly chopped parsley for his risotto. While he really enjoys cooking, his primary motivation is that he really likes … eating.
Yvonne Bernino, the culinary arts teacher who arranged the demonstration, wants her students to have "a realistic perception of what a chef's job is all about." Bernino has planned several visits by local chefs, and hopes her students learn not just cooking skills, but skills important in any profession.
"To be successful, they need to know about teamwork and cooperation, networking, and how to be professional," Bernino said. Toward that end, students are required to follow up with a thank-you note after each chef's visit.
Culinary arts students are busy outside the kitchen, too. They are starting their own vegetable and herb garden, and recently visited ARBICO Organics in Catalina to learn more about organic growing methods, composting and natural alternatives to pesticides. The students have also been invited to participate in Tucson's culinary festival at the end of October, helping with the Copper Chef competition to be held at Loews Ventana Canyon.
"We are thrilled with this opportunity to work with the best chefs in town," Bernino said. "I always encourage my students to do community service work and this seemed to be the perfect match."