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Grants Pass High training students to become future chefs

The program teaches students there's more than one definition of success. Culinary arts students are currently fundraising for a culinary workshop at Disney World.

Posted: Oct 29, 2019 4:03 AM
Updated: Apr 28, 2021 10:40 AM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- McKenzie Shaw takes pride in her olive oil bread recipe. She learned how to make dough from scratch, knead it to perfection and mold it into decorative shapes. The Grants Pass High School senior aims to open her own bakery, but she didn't always want to work in the culinary industry. Shaw said the school's Culinary Arts Program helped her find her passion. 

"I just love seeing people eat what I make," said Shaw. "Their faces just light up. And they they're like, oh, this is so good. It's just one of my favorite things ever just to see how  much they enjoy what I can do."

The Grants Pass High Culinary Arts Program is part of the school's Career and Technical Education track. It prepares students for a job in industries that need skilled workers, such as the culinary or welding field. More importantly, students said these types of programs teach them that there is more than one way to become successful after college. 

Zoe Stoltz wants to be a baker, too. Stoltz plans to go to the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute after she graduates high school. She said she's grateful to her mentor, Culinary Arts Instructor Courtney Leair, for encouraging her to pursue baking as a career. 

"I think it's so important to have someone in your life that pushes you to do what you want to do," said Stoltz. "Whether it be you want to be a scientist or a pastry chef, it's important to have that one person, even if it's your grandmother, or like Mrs. Leair is for me."

Eighty to 90 percent of the students who graduate from OCCI end up with a job, according to Leair. 

Her program at Grants Pass High sets students up for success at the institute. Students first sign up for an intro class and practice cooking basics. These students even get their food handler license within a month. This lets them work at any restaurant while they're still in school. 

Advanced students learn how to work in an industrial kitchen. They also learn how to work quickly and in teams. Leair said a big part of her program is career readiness. 

"If you show up, you have a smile, you do the work and you don't complain, then you're going to have a job," said Leair. 

Students learn much more than cooking. They even learn how to budget money when planning their own recipes. That's why Leair said her classes teaches students life skills. 

"Everybody needs to learn how to cook," said Leair. "You can't just go and buy food and live off of to-go food. You need to  learn those basics."

Advanced students even get real world cooking experience by competing in competitions and catering for school and district events. 

Ten advanced students will be headed to Walt Disney World this spring for a cooking workshop. They will get to see how large, industrial kitchens work and meet star chefs. The trip will cost students $2,000 each and they are currently fundraising. 

These students will be having a barbecue fundraiser this Friday at Grants Pass High's Caveman Court. They'll be selling burgers and pulled chicken sandwiches. You can get that barbecue, a drink and chips for five dollars. They'll start selling meals at 5 p.m. before the school's football game starts. 

For more information about how to donate please contact: cleair@grantspass.k12.or.us

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