When the "career wing" of T.C. Williams High School was demolished in 2004 to make room for a new building, students lost a very important part of their school — the culinary arts kitchen and dining room. Since then, the school has fashioned a temporary makeshift kitchen from an old classroom and hosted events in the school’s basement cafeteria.
It’s not quite as glamorous as a four-star restaurant. But students have learned to cope with the hassle of living in a construction zone by creating a takeout service for teachers, setting up food-service events in a variety of locations and hosting the annual Senior Citizen Prom in the lunchroom.
"It’s good, real-life experience for the students about how food service works," said Craig Scheuerman, the school’s culinary arts instructor. "When everybody hit the buffet at once, the food disappeared and they needed to replace it quickly."
When visitors arrive at T.C. Williams, they are often fed by the school’s culinary arts program. This year alone, students made Hawaiian pork sandwiches for the seniors, muffins for the mayor and vegetable platters for members of the School Board advisory committee. For many students, the opportunity to interact with visiting dignitaries is one of the most attractive features of the program.
"It’s fun to mingle with the movers and shakers," said Mary Mitchell, a senior. "This is the best class at T.C. because we are learning things that will be useful to us for the rest of our lives."
NEXT YEAR, when the school’s new $100 million facility opens, the culinary arts program will have a kitchen that’s about one-third larger than their current capacity and a dining room that can seat 40. Scheuerman said that not having a dining room for the last three years has been a major challenge, but students have risen to the occasion by creating a takeout service for teachers — a service that exposes the students to the intricacies of food service.
"People can be very demanding," said Brandon Hale, a junior. "They’ll say things like, ‘Can I have cake instead of a cookie?’ or ‘Can I have a fork with that?’ or ‘Does this come with water?’"
The student-created takeout menu includes items such as gumbo, chicken puff pastry with wild mushroom sauce, tuna salad melt and crab cakes. Revenue from the takeout service goes back into the culinary arts program, allowing students to purchase more food and equipment. Several of the students said that they want to use what they are learning now during a future career in the food industry.
"I want to cook for the president at the White House," said Tomar Ashby, a junior. "I think it would be better than working at a restaurant because you would be appreciated more."
"I was to open a Spanish restaurant," added Laura Tomkins, a junior. "I already own a building a building in Peru, where my family is from, and I think that would be a great place for my restaurant."
THE STUDENTS are passionate about food. A recent discussion about Food Network programming, for example, prompted a lively discussion. Some of the students favored "Good Eats with Alton Brown" while others were fans of "Emeril Live." Yet they put aside their differences to work with each other during the school year in one of the high school’s most popular electives.
"We have 48 spots in the program," said Scheuerman, who is completing is second year as the culinary-arts instructor. "And last year we had 109 students trying to get in."