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Culinary Class Prepares Students for Food-Service Careers


Not all the students in Kanto McPherson's Panther Chef class at Montezuma-Cortez High School may be headed for careers in the kitchen, but they certainly learned a lot about mass production when they made 250 no-bake cheesecakes as a fund-raiser earlier this month. This story is sponsored by Choice Building Supply Ace Hardware and the law firm of Downs, McDonough, Cowan and Foley


Montezuma-Cortez High School senior, Maxine Dennison wants to open a restaurant one of these days and she already has a head start. Thanks to the lessons she's learned in Kanto McPherson's Panther chef class. You're watching "the Local News Network" brought to you by choice building supply ACE Hardware and the law firm of Downs, McDonough, Conan and Foley. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

The main goal for our programs was really career-focused, and that's why they gave us a commercial kitchen as compared to the last school was like the home kitchens. There's value in both of it, but we're really trying to get that career technical education piece and give them that like, hands-on rush of what it takes to, either be in the back of a kitchen for a restaurant, or put on a catering event. So, most of the time, right now, we're just doing in district like, other schools. Like, you know, every month we were doing a lunch for Kemper, for their teachers or a lot of banquets, right now we have a FFA banquet coming up in a few weeks Where they're having a competition from all the other schools. So they hire us to provide their lunches.

McPherson offers two culinary classes. The first focuses on the basics of cooking, balancing food groups, learning about different types of cuisines and cooking techniques. Students who want to learn more or who may be interested in working in the food industry can enroll in the Panther chef class, where they master more complex skills, including planning and executing catering events.

So what's cool is they really, you know, get that planning, like they have to go through the recipe. We have to figure out how much it's going to cost to make it. And that cost analysis, Max goes shopping for me, so she gets that practice of looking at the, you know, just all the prices and comparisons. And then we usually come up with a menu together. Like I want all the students to have an input in menu development.

Panther Chef students also may earn college credit through concurrent enrollment in Pueblo Community College Culinary Arts program. The college level curriculum includes a certification program on food safety. The Colorado legislature recently passed a law that requires all commercial food service operations to hire a food safety manager on site. After one of McPherson's students completed the Serve Safe program, the restaurant gave her a raise because her certification helped management meet the new state requirements. Earlier this month, Panther chefs were immersed in Cheesecake Mania. A large scale production event to raise money for the class. Students spent nearly a week mixing and assembling 250 jars of made to order no-baked cheesecakes.

They don't pay to take this class. They, we cook for fun and for skill building through what we, you know, through our fundraising, through our catering events. So it also just goes for the groceries that we buy for labs.

Team leader on the Cheesecake Mania project was Cortez senior, Maxine Dennison, who also serves as the Panther chef kitchen manager. A self-professed foodie since she was a little girl watching cooking shows on television. Dennison is headed to Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs for the restaurant management program.

I want to open my own restaurant, definitely.

What kind?

I had a couple of ideas. Mostly what I was thinking of was barbecuing. Definitely, 'cause there's not a lot of restaurants around here that do smoking. And so, I want to do that, or, I also thought like, a sports bar, like, people have always thought about sports bar, and then, a fancy restaurant, like, a fancy steakhouse is definitely one of 'em.

Although not all her students are headed for careers in the kitchen. McPherson says the organizational skills they learn in the Panther chef class will pay off, no matter what their future career is.

And I think for everyone, it's just, you learn so much from, from that pressure and the customer service, and that safety and sanitation. There's just so much within cooking that is practical, that you can put into other areas.

Thanks for watching this edition of the "Local News Network." I'm Wendy Graham Settle.


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