AT STATE: Taft culinary team prepares for competition | News

It’s not just Taft 7-12 High School sports teams competing this year at state competition. The school’s culinary students are also taking their skills to a state event.

The following is a conversation with Julia Westbrook, the Taft 7-12 High School culinary class instructor.

News Guard: How is your culinary class helping students with life-long lessons and in their overall education?

Westbrook: While we use the culinary program and its events as a vehicle, students are learning those transferable (“soft”) skills that they may otherwise not get or not be as motivated to pursue. These are things like problem-solving, leadership, communication (giving clear directions and teaching their peers), self-starter, critical reading of technical directions, and having that “hospitality” personality (positive, welcoming, having good customer service, etc).

News Guard: How to do engage the students in the class to capture their interest and attention?

Westbrook: It starts with FOOD. It’s a great motivator to get things started. It’s when the students realize they have a skill and knowledge in the culinary area that they begin to really enjoy what they are doing. It also helps that they feel valued and useful rather than just a student in a classroom. They have a real purpose and a job to do.

News Guard: What are the range of class projects and why those projects?

Westbrook: We do a variety including catering events and bistros, which is what the business is based off of. The point is for students to practice front and back-of-house procedures in the safety of a school but it’s still authentic (we use the profits to run the program, which is self-sustaining outside of my teacher’s salary and CTE grant money such as Perkins funding).

We do in-house competitions where students have specific requirements and compete against each other (staff also fight to become judges). This allows us to test new recipes that we can use for events later and students still get to have choice in their dishes. And then we have project weeks where it’s completely open to whatever the student wants to practice. Some students choose to practice for state competition SkillsUSA while others want to try a recipe or technique that they’ve been wanting to try (i.e. sous vide, a favorite dessert, etc.). We try to have students in the kitchen as much as possible.

We also cost each recipe we do so students can see how much ingredients cost and then we calculate how much we’d sell for.

News Guard: Describe the state competition that the Taft 7-12 culinary class is preparing for.

Westbrook: SkillsUSA is a technical and leadership CTSO, career and technical student organization. We compete at state each year, This year it’s at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas and is set for March 15-16. Next year it will move to Salem-Keizer’s C-Tech. Those who get 1st place in competition are invited to compete at nationals. This year in Louisville, KY, and next year moving to Atlanta, GA.

Competitions that we typically compete in include: culinary arts, commercial baking, cake decorating, job interview, restaurant service, customer service, quiz bowl (this is our only team event we compete in), prepared speech, extemporaneous speech, early childhood teaching and related technical math (the last two are usually students who come from another CTE program, not culinary, but travel with us). The dates this year is March 15-16, 2019 and competitions run all day both days with the award ceremony beginning around 3-4pm on the 16th.

News Guard: How are the students preparing for that state event?

Westbrook: The best part of SkillsUSA is that we are always preparing for the competition because it’s based on standards we are doing in class anyway. Still, we give students choices of when they can practice in class if they choose to (see projects on #3). Other competitions like ProStart (which we don’t participate in anymore due to cost) require that students work in a team of 4-5 and have to practice often outside of the school day. I would rather focus on events that are more authentic and don’t take extra time unless the individual student chooses to do it. It was also hard to get students to work as a team when so many have sports and/or jobs after school.

News Guard: What is your passion about cooking?

Westbrook: I love putting it all together on the plate or decorating the cake at the end. It’s that creativity piece that turns food into art that I love. I also love seeing students really get into it and come up with their own ideas on how to do something…. and then run with it. Lastly, the best part is seeing the students run the kitchen without me. I can sit back (although somewhat bored but still impressed!) and watch them work–and help each other. When we have events, they are motivated to come back and help if they are done in another class or after school. They don’t have to do these things and they choose to do the extra work. It’s such a great combination being a culinary teacher.

News Guard: What is your favorite dish and why that dish?

Westbrook: Cake. I always want to practice the decorating and see what else I can try out and get better at. It’s also so tasty!!!

Read more about the Taft 7-12 High School Culinary team in the March 6 edition of The News Guard.

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