ROGERSVILLE — Cherokee and Volunteer High School’s Vocational and Technical Culinary Programs teach students basic cooking skills and prepare them to enter the hospitality and restaurant industry.
Hawkins County Schools, CTE Director Brandon Williams said the program has been part of CTE offerings in the Hawkins County school system for many years.
Williams said the culinary program teaches life skills in addition to advanced culinary techniques.
“Cooking is a good course for students who want to learn the necessary life skills,” Williams said. “So even if they don’t plan to enter the hospitality industry, learning knife techniques and basic cooking skills can be helpful to almost anyone.”
At VHS, students can take culinary courses one through four, which begin by teaching the basics. This includes cooking and food safety and knife skills. Then, the students move on to learning table service and butchery.
VHS culinary instructor Jamie-Lyn Schmidt said she enjoys sharing her passion and love of food with her students.
“I live, breathe and eat food,” Schmidt said. “I’m always on the lookout for the cooking network and love sharing all the techniques and passion I have for food with my students.”
The CHS culinary program works very similarly, with students first learning basic skills and basic dishes like pancakes and muffins. Students then move on to more advanced concepts in two culinary areas such as fresh pasta, mother sauces, and how to start a restaurant.
CHS culinary instructor Whitney Swinney said students even participate in a unit where they create a restaurant from scratch. They have to choose a name, design a menu, calculate the costs associated with it, and even cook dishes from the menu.
CHS’s three culinary courses focus on baking, and all four culinary courses are work-based learning, where students work at local restaurants like Big H BBQ, Bull Babies, and the school cafeteria.
Students in advanced level courses also participate in off-premises catering.
“Restoration is a hands-on learning experience,” Schmidt said. “They actually go into the real world where they have to be customer-oriented. So it’s not just about preparing the food here. It’s about getting out there and actually working in the workforce with customers and others.
Swinney said the culinary program is not limited to restaurant skills; it’s about teaching students the life skills they need to succeed in the future.
“I think cooking is a very important skill that everyone needs to know just to be able to live,” Swinney said. “You have to eat, so knowing how to bake cookies, muffins and how to cook a piece of chicken is important. So if they’re moving for college they may be able to feed themselves or if they have a family in the future, something like that, you know being able to figure out how to wash dishes or just sweep or mop or just be self-sufficient is really why this class is so important.
Swinney said her favorite part of teaching this class is seeing the students have light bulb moments.
“My favorite part is watching those light bulb moments when they come in as a culinary freshman, and all they’ve ever done is ramen noodles or an easy microwave mac,” Swinney said. . “Then they go into the kitchen and they start learning how these ingredients with these ingredients can do something, and you just see this light bulb go out. Then they realize, ‘hey, I can actually do something by myself, as opposed to pizza rolls or anything microwaved.'”
Schmidt said his classes also teach other important skills.
“Learning to work in a team is a big deal,” Schmidt said. “A lot of students want to work individually, but when you’re working in a kitchen, you have to be team-oriented to get everything right out of the kitchen, from the dishwasher to the waitress.”
Students enrolled in the culinary program can also earn certifications. For example, Culinary VHS One students will earn a Food Handler Certification, and in Culinary VHS Four and Culinary CHS Three, students can earn a National Serve Safe Handler Certification, which is valid for five years.
Students prepare several different dishes in the cooking classes, including chicken alfredo, mini ham and cheese burgers, homemade pizzas, pretzels, cakes and patty melts.
Swinney said her students also compete in competitions such as the National Gingerbread House Competition, Skills USA and the Tennessee Junior Chef Competition. She said competitions build student confidence.
“So it builds student confidence and it allows me to show off their creativity,” Swinney said. “It’s for those who are a bit more dedicated who maybe want to pursue the culinary industry as a future or get into that industry, and so it’s really about engaging them and honing those skills.”
VHS senior Maggie Bice said she took the course because she had always loved cooking and knew she wanted to pursue a cooking-related career in the future.
“Well, I’ve always loved cooking, especially, especially baking,” Bice said, “and I just knew it was something I wanted to pursue as a career option in the future and the best way to do so is by CTE.”
Bice said she loves cooking because food is a love language.
“It’s kind of like a love language,” Bice said. “So food can make you feel things, good things; it can make you feel loved. It can make you feel important and valued.
Bice said she thinks cooking is a great CTE program because it connects with others.
“Well, I think it’s important because it gives you that kind of built-in friendship,” Bice said. “You’re all in this class together, we have one goal, and that’s to make good food. So it’s important here at Volunteer to have this group that you can go to, so it feels more like a family for you and to get that career experience too, but that’s also a plus with all the CTEs we offer here.
CHS sophomore Hadley Ward said that although she planned to go into the medical field after high school, she took the course to learn life skills.
“I plan to go into the medical field, but I knew I had to know how to cook first to be able to live, and that sounded like fun,” Ward said.
VHS Junior Maedyn Manis said that by being in this class she learned many necessary skills.
“I definitely learned time management,” Manis said. “I learned to work with other people and to work together to accomplish a set of tasks. I think classes like this are important because some kids can’t cook at home and cooking is a life skill you need.
The culinary program is also a way for many types of students to participate.
CHS employee Jennifer Gilbert, who works with students with special needs, said the program is helpful to everyone.
“Most things can be changed, even using special tools,” Gilbert said. “Everyone is capable of learning. You just need to know the right way to teach them.
Addison Evans, a CHS junior, said she loved baking cakes and wanted to work at a seafood restaurant after high school.