Members of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce enjoyed a taste on March 12 of the positive things happening at Los Angeles High School when students in the culinary arts program catered a luncheon at the school that was attended by approximately 100 people.
Students served appetizers of crostini topped with salmon and avocado; mozzarella and gruyere pesto; and grilled zucchini and red peppers. Others worked behind-the-scenes in the kitchen preparing the main courses of pan seared chicken with jalapeno chili sauce on a potato galette, pan seared salmon on Thai rice with star anise sauce and fettuccini alla barese. Housemade gelato, brownies, tortes and bouchons were served for dessert. The guests offered rave reviews of the food.
“It was delicious, sophisticated yet comfortable, and I would put their desserts up against any restaurant in town,” said attorney Stephen Kramer, president of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce. “I think the program also clearly addresses training in high school and learning skills they can take to an employer. The kids really demonstrated that with the meals they prepared.”
The luncheon offered an opportunity for L.A. High School to show off its talents, drawing lines of hungry guests who were eager to sample the students’ creations.
Culinary arts instructor Gregg Davis said the luncheon was an example of what the approximately 150 students in the program are capable of accomplishing when they work as a team. They frequently cater dances and programs at the school for students, parents and faculty, as well as community events.
Davis said the school is in the early stages of creating a permanent vocational program for the culinary arts that would open more pathways into the professional food service industry. While a more extensive program is being developed, he said he is striving to offer students an introduction to food service coupled with science, math and other curricula that will give them a well-rounded understanding of the culinary arts.
“The overall goal is to teach them two skills: following directions and getting along with others,” Davis said. “A lot of it is teaching them perseverance. A lot of them feel like their voices aren’t heard. We do things like gelatos and pizzas. When they see a pizza they created come out of the oven, they can’t believe they have turned water and yeast and other ingredients into something edible.”
L.A. High School senior Kimberly Sierra said although she is uncertain about pursuing a career in the culinary arts, she has learned a lot from being a part of the program.
“You get to learn how to make different kinds of foods. It’s fun,” Sierra said.
Senior Jenifer Garcia added that she enjoys learning how to create meals from scratch.
“We get to taste new foods and get to make new recipes,” Garcia said. “We do cakes and pastries and complicated dishes.”
Davis brings a plethora of experience to the program. He said he worked in numerous restaurants when he was a teenager and has a lifelong love of cooking. Before he took over the culinary arts program, Davis taught math at L.A. High School. His broad range of experience gives him the ability to go beyond instructing the kids in cooking.
“We talk about temperatures and food safety. We do a lot on yields and food conversions. I have them read and write food reviews to give them an English component,” Davis said. “Essentially, we cover every area that is related to the food we do.”
Davis said grading is based on attendance and participation, as well as achievement. He said some of his former culinary arts students have secured jobs at places like the Los Angeles Country Club.
“I tell the kids, ‘I’m nothing more than an accumulation of all the chefs I’ve worked with’,” Davis said. “When they work with me, they get the experience that I have learned from those chefs. They can get an enormous amount of experience.”
Joyce Kleifield, executive director of the Harrison Trust, an organization affiliated with L.A. High School that supports programs at the campus, said she is hoping to build more partnerships in the community that could benefit students in the culinary arts.
“Career pathways are a big deal. We are trying to offer them a lot of different opportunities,” Kleifield said. “Not all schools have [culinary arts programs]. We are in L.A., one of the eating capitals of the world. We would like to find new ways to expand on it.”
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