Culinary arts students at Payson High School busily chopped and stirred on a recent morning, preparing for two meals — enchiladas in the cafeteria and lunch at the Payson Senior Center.
Small groups and pairs of students each took on a compartmentalized task. One stirred enchilada sauce, others chopped fruit for the senior center’s fruit cocktail.
Both of the endeavors are new this year. Every other Thursday, students will cook a lunch that their fellow students can purchase in the cafeteria, and also prepare items to help the chef at the senior center.
The busy chef at the senior center doesn’t have time to prepare things like a fresh fruit cup, said culinary arts teacher Devon Wells.
“There are times he has to do it the quick way” — open a can. Enter the army of culinary arts students seeking projects to help them develop their skills.
And on the alternate Thursdays, students prepare lunches for the community-at-large, including several businesses, and teachers at the middle school and high school.
The projects require menu planning and budgeting. Each week, the class pours through ads from local grocery stores and plans menus based on the foods for sale.
“We always give them a mini-dessert,” said Wells about the lunches students prepare for community members — a caramel brownie, perhaps, a surprise like the one mom used to place in your brown bag.
The flurry of activity keeps students busy.
Wells said the new senior center assignment arose after Barbara Underwood, a school board member who also volunteers with the senior center, mentioned the idea. Helping with the cafeteria kept only half the students busy, said Wells. She needed a project for the remaining students.
The culinary arts class visited the senior center, and ate the food to ensure they understood the seniors’ needs. For example, grapes must be cut in in half for easier chewing and swallowing.
The senior center provides the food, and the culinary arts class provides the labor.
Wells said the students are currently not profiting from the cooking, although she hopes that the program will eventually sustain itself.
One recent afternoon, culinary student Alex Williams stirred the apple stuffing that would later go with pork chops.
She said she was happy for the opportunity to help senior citizens. “If I’m older and I needed help, I would love to have younger people come help me,” she said.
On the other side of the room, students stirred enchilada sauce, preparing for lunch.
When the bell rings, the students dedicated to the cafeteria project hustle there carrying food as students ready for lunch flood in the door.
Wells said the cafeteria project began last year when students grilled hamburgers for lunch. “They got tired of doing the same thing.”
The food service people saw that the culinary arts students were good workers, which helped when the culinary arts students approached the cafeteria manager and asked to expand the menu.
The students cooked samples for the food service people to taste test, and the favorites emerged.
Now, the biggest challenge will be keeping up the pace.
“I’m hoping that we can keep this pace because I do have curriculum I have to teach,” said Wells.