Serving up culinary arts

Photo by Ron Leir HHS Principal Matthew Weber in space targeted for culinary arts classroom

Photo by Ron Leir
HHS Principal Matthew Weber in space targeted for culinary arts classroom.

HARRISON –

Starting in September, with a big helping hand from the state and local partners, Harrison High School will be cooking up something new to put students on a career path in the food service industry.

On April 20, the state Department of Education announced the award of a 3-year, $368,484 grant to Hudson County Vocational School for a culinary arts program that will operate from HHS.

HCVS is one of six awardees from around the state to share in a total of $3 million in County Vocational School District Partnership Grants designed to “expand access and student opportunities in career and technical education.”

Other beneficiaries are: Bergen County Vocational, $600,000 for advanced manufacturing/mechatronics; Hunterdon County Vocational, $590,096 for Computer Science and Software Engineering; Morris County Vocational, $353,807 for engineering design and advanced manufacturing; Salem County Vocational, $343,902 for Law Enforcement, Firefighter, EMT; and Mercer County Vocational, $300,000 for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Cynthia Baumgartner, Harrison school district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the idea behind the grant was “to take our high school’s designation as a Blue Ribbon School for academic improvement and extend that to the range of electives we offer like our STEM Academy and Project LEAP (Learning Enables All Possibilities) where students can earn college credits.”

In particular, noted former superintendent James Doran, the current personnel director, “there has been an ongoing effort for the past several years to bring more vocational courses into the district” for students planning practical post-secondary pathways.

And so, the district developed a grant application for a program designed to tap into Harrison’s waterfront redevelopment projects, including hotels and eateries, and “a growing need for professionals in the hospitality industry, especially food service.” State experts are forecasting that that industry “will see a job growth of approximately 16% over the course of the next 10 years,” Harrison’s application says, thereby creating the likelihood of demand for “youth workers.”

“For this reason,” the application says, “we are specifically targeting 15- to 18-yearold students who plan to immediately enter the workforce following high school graduation … to have immediately employable skills ….”

Because Harrison’s per capita income is $24,741, HHS graduates “often rely heavily on workplace readiness skills in order to support family and finance [college],” it says.

Harrison’s plan is to have a contractor convert about 1,500 square feet of high school space now used by the Youth Services Program for counseling and recreation into a “demonstration kitchen and cooking stations,” Baumbartner said. “We’ll also be using the Pomptonian kitchen,” she added, referring to the district’s food vendor. And Harrison will be relying on Hudson County Vo-Tech for guidance as well.

(The YSP, funded by a grant and local match, will shift across the hall into the media center, according to Principal Matthew Weber.)

In the first year of the culinary arts program, the 20 sophomores to be selected as participants will take courses in “Introduction to Commercial Cooking” and “Hospitality Introduction.” Baumgartner said the district, with Pomptonian’s guidance, will hire a teacher for the cooking class while Hudson County Community College staff will teach the hospitality course.

HCCC’s culinary program, which has been in operation for the past 20 years, is accredited by the American Culinary Federation.

In the second year, she said, HCCC staff will teach the culinary students “Sanitation and Culinary Principles” (the rudiments of working in a commercial kitchen), which is a requirement for acquiring “Serve Safe” certification.

In Year 3, students will travel to the HCCC campus to take “Table Service,” “Pantry and Breakfast Cookery” and “Production Kitchen Skills,” plus a “College Success’’ seminar.

Those who successfully complete the program will receive nine college credits in culinary arts, Baumgartner said.

Along the way, they’ll also be taking their regular academic courses.

Baumgartner said that the program is open to any member of the current freshman class who wants to apply and Weber hopes to begin advertising for staff shortly and have 20 students signed up by mid-May.

“We’re very excited about the program,” he said.

After the grant period expires, Harrison will pick up the full cost, Baumgartner said. And, down the road, she hopes to develop a “functional café” in the high school that can serve faculty and, possibly, the public.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.