Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches were on the lunch menu Thursday at Payson High School, but these sandwiches weren’t constructed by lunch ladies wearing hair nets in the cafeteria.
Instead, students wearing black chefs’ smocks in Devon Wells’ culinary arts class stirred and chopped, cut and cooked the sandwiches for sale to teachers and other school officials. A roll sandwiched turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, other turkey fixings and a side of green bean casserole accompanied it.
“It’s really a full meal on a sandwich,” said Wells, adding that the class had received roughly 20 orders that day — the most sold ever was 30. Chili and corn bread were also on the menu.
This year is the first that the culinary arts class, in which students can earn both high school and college credit, has cooked bi-weekly lunches for teachers and other district officials.
Senior Chelsea Iverson said she thought of the idea while contemplating excuses to cook large meals. “We started off doing it once a week,” she said. But that proved too frequent and the output slowed to every other week.
The class’ low-key nature allows for experimentation, Iverson said. “We get to take our time.”
And if a meal goes awry, the customers likely won’t yell or try to get a student fired.
Iverson said the class usually rehearses lunch recipes a few days before showtime.
The classroom features four kitchens with stoves and ovens in various corners. The space is a licensed restaurant and Wells said the students cater around the community.
Students are not permitted to cook for other students because the laws that outline food service requirements in schools forbid it.
New culinary arts classes are continually being developed, and next year’s seniors will be the first students with the opportunity of earning a certificate in culinary arts through a dual enrollment partnership with Gila Community College and Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT).
Students can begin taking culinary classes in their freshman year, with one class hour possible in each of their freshman and sophomore years. Starting junior year, students are eligible to earn dual high school and college credit — two high school class hours both senior and junior year.
During those high school class hours, the 13 students in this year’s most advanced culinary class will earn 15 college credits. The classes include Safe Food Handling and Sanitation and Culinary Basics, which teaches proper knife care and how to classify fruits and vegetables, among other things.
After Christmas, students will take Hot Foods and Breakfast and Garde Manger, which is a French term that has been Anglicized to mean a cook who specializes in cold food preparation.
Next year, students could have the opportunity to take a pastry class and other, more advanced classes are being developed for the certification program.
Justin Richardson, a junior, is one of the students who will seek a certificate of completion. He began cooking as a child and has an affinity for Italian food — “real Italian food,” and not just spaghetti sauce.
“They use a lot of herbs, fresh vegetables, a lot of small game. If you have good ingredients, you can make good food.”
Richardson aspires to be a cook who uses fresh vegetables from a backyard farm.
He, along with Wells’ other culinary students, will also learn about cheeses and hors d’oeuvres, salads and dressings, meats, poultry and fish. Other lessons include the business side of culinary arts — management techniques, marketing, menu planning and ethics in the workplace for instance.
Wells said that even if students don’t pursue careers as cooks, they have the option of financing school through restaurant work. Not only can one become a cook without attending college, but the career allows students to work their way to promotion as well, Wells added.