Students Find Careers, Passion For Cooking

Everyone suits up with protective gloves before the serving begins, (from left to right are) Alex Williams, Dania Morales, Zephiah Sumpter, Chris Oldeschulte, Melissa Hill and Elle Eavenson.

Photo by Andy Towle. |

Everyone suits up with protective gloves before the serving begins, (from left to right are) Alex Williams, Dania Morales, Zephiah Sumpter, Chris Oldeschulte, Melissa Hill and Elle Eavenson.


From Asian to Greek, Italian and Mexican, the food at the sixth annual A Taste of Culture is as varied as the students who cook it.


Alex Williams (left) and Dania Morales keep those pots hot and ready as the culinary team prepares to take another meal on the road.

And although they are only 16- to 18-year-old chefs, Payson High School’s advanced culinary arts students are whisking up dishes for more than just fun.

Students will get both college credit and get their foot in the culinary world.

For most of them, working in a kitchen is a dream come true. Nearly all reported they planned to pursue their culinary dreams outside of high school, with some determined to open their own restaurants or bakeries in only a few years.

Senior Leticia Martinez is one of those students. She proudly proclaims that she will own her own Italian restaurant and already plans to attend cooking school this summer.

But before all that, Martinez and a dozen other advanced culinary arts students have prepared for their version of the Super Bowl.


Elle Eavenson (left) and teacher Devon Wells pour drinks for business leaders who are arriving and taking their seats at a Business Buzz luncheon at the school district office.

Only this is more of a supper bowl.

On March 2, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the students will see their hard work come to fruition at the international culinary event at the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria.

Culinary students will lay out 150 dishes in buffet style for Rim Country guests to enjoy.

Students from five groups determined the theme and countries to highlight in the event.

Martinez’s group is charged with Mexican dishes including tamales, chicken chipotle, quesadillas and beans with cheese.

Not surprisingly, the Italian group will lay out pasta favorites with the Asian and European groups following suit.

The original idea for the fund-raising event came from Gerardo Moceri, owner of Gerardo’s Firewood Cafe, half a dozen years ago, Martinez said. Moceri continues to help students with the event with local grocery stores donating food.


Eavenson asks each patron what flavor of salad dressing they would like as she places them on the table.

Students have expanded the event every year with new dishes.

Last year, the event brought in enough money that each student was given $165.

Martinez said she spent her money on family when she visited Guatemala.

This year, she hopes to save it and put it toward her education. She starts school at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts in North Carolina this summer.

For Martinez, cooking has been a passion for some time, especially since she started participating in the culinary arts program at PHS three years ago.

Although she loves dreaming up new recipes and cooking them, the stress of putting on such a big event is daunting.

“It is very stressful and tiresome,” she said.

Students begin cooking a week in advance, freezing dishes like tamales. Two days before the event, students cook nonstop.

“You wonder if you will have enough time to finish,” she said.

On the day of, Martinez estimates students will work from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., setting up, cooking and then tearing down.

In addition, A Taste of Culture falls right before the 2011 Taste of Rim Country, which is Saturday, March 5 at the Payson Public Library.

Students will also be cooking for that event.

“We will be at the Taste of Rim Country event, but want people to come to our big chef event also,” said Devon Wells, culinary arts teacher at PHS. “I am sorry both are occurring in the same week, but plans had been made and it was too late to change.”


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