WAXAHACHIE — Serving its first meal of the semester last Wednesday, Waxahachie High School’s monthly restaurant, The Reservation, is cooking more than fine cuisine — it's serving experiences worth a lifetime.
“The Reservation is a restaurant we have on campus at the high school, and it was designed, built, and operated by students,” began Chef Joel Skipper of the WHS Culinary Arts department
“Today was our first service at The Reservation, and if you’ve never seen a meal prepared and delivered by high school culinary students, it’s a pretty neat thing to watch these high school kids execute a meal in a very timely fashion for you,” he expounded. “It’s impressive to watch a group of 16-to-17-year-old kids work with intense choreography and teamwork.”
What originated in 2013 as a unique idea, soon took form and turned Skipper’s traditional classroom into a sizzling kitchen of real-world application paired with coursework curriculum.
“The first year, I had my culinary students design the restaurant, and I gave them guidelines to think about and the functionality of it,” Skipper explained the restaurant's origin. “So they came up with a couple of designs, and we picked one and went with it.”
“At the time Michael Craig was our building and trades instructor, and his kids came in and finished the design out,” he added. “And now it’s still fully operated by students that help fund the culinary arts program here, so it’s a pretty cool deal.”
“Our Culinary Arts students learn every aspect of restaurant management – everything from planning a menu to cooking the food to serving it,” acknowledged Jenny Bridges, WISD’s Director of Public Relations.
Opening their doors last Thursday, 11 seniors from the Advanced Culinary class got to work with a Lone Star classic meal, putting their previous two years of training to the test.
“People tend to think, ‘It’s a high school program? Well, how good can a high school program really be?’ And then we show up, they’re really impressed by these kids,” Skipper complimented his students.
With a challenging menu of hand-cut French fries, burgers, and homemade banana pudding in a revolving 35-seat dining room, Skipper goes on to note that the first service is usually the most trying for his students.
“With this particular setup it’s not the easiest thing to do for a lot of reasons, and they pretty much got their butt’s kicked today,” Skipper recognized with a chuckle. “Which I fully expected, and I wanted them to go through that particular scenario because the rest of the services will get a little bit easier from here.”
In the high-pressure service, Skipper described that his students learned to problem solve on the fly, facing a challenge head-on and working out a solution.
“They went through that experience and got confused and didn’t know what to do, but they had to learn how to not shut down and work through a problem,” Skipper explained. “They had to figure out how to get their food out because people were counting on them, and that scenario could very well happen in the real world.”
“They had some hiccups, but they got through it and at the end of the day, they did a pretty good job, and people were pleased - and that’s what’s important,” he added.
From catering school and community organizations to restaurant production, the students received positive feedback from customers and guests alike. Skipper goes on to express that he expects nothing less from his students’ professional conduct in all culinary environments.
“They look like professionals and people comment on that, and their politeness and professionalism, and all of that is part of how I was taught, and that’s what I teach them,” Skipper articulated. “There’s a way you talk to your clients and my students are expected to converse with our guests because it's part of the experience.”
“We are so proud of our Culinary Arts program – and all of our Career and Technical Education programs,” Bridges added. “These programs enable our students to have a head start on careers they may want to pursue after their education is complete, whether that is after high school or post-secondary education.”
“The delicious meals they serve are a testament to their talent and their instructor,” she expounded.
Finishing up the year with five more services, Skipper invites the community to reserve tickets online and stop by for lunch to be amazed by what these WHS students can do.
“I hope the community comes to eat our homework,” Skipper laughed. “Come see these kids because we do some pretty good food around here.”
To visit The Reservation restaurant, schools.wisd.org and search “The Reservation,” or call (972)-923-4600, extension 168. Also, visit the chefs in training on Facebook at “The Reservation at Waxahachie High School.” The next five Reservation lunch dates for 2017 are scheduled on Oct. 11, Oct. 25, Nov. 29, Dec. 13, and Dec. 20.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer