The culinary art students at Waxahachie High School have always taken pride in their creations. Now, they have a facility that mirrors their quality of technique.
Even with the state-of-the-art kitchen and supplies, the curriculum will mostly remain the same — which has already proven to be award-winning.
“The techniques are still the techniques, and the skills are still the skills," expressed culinary arts instructor Joel Skipper.
As he pointed toward a massive kitchen unit, Skipper added, "It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking on this. It’s just better over here because of the equipment. I don’t foresee any changes in the structure of the lesson plans. I think we will be able to get things done a lot quicker because we have more space to do things.”
Skipper explained the students would have a jump on others their age since they will be familiar with the professional equipment. “There is no adjustment or transitional period," he assured.
The kitchen at the previous building was initially used as a home economics classroom. After the culinary career cluster was introduced to the CTE in 2013, The Reservation and culinary classes took over the home economics and interior design classrooms.
“We are really excited to have this place, and we did some really cool things out of there. We are very proud of the food we put out,” Skipper added.
The program has not been able to grow due to space. The steady enrollment of about 100 students was always capped. The new facility will allow more students to get involved.
The first room was designed to replicate the functionality of a restaurant but also serve as a classroom for the advanced students. The Reservation is a student-run restaurant open to the public and the Billy Bates Career Technology Engineering wing has an exterior door for non-staff and students to enter through and register as a visitor with the school.
The Reservation is designed with a comfortable, contemporary dining room, an isolated beverage station, an expediting window as well as a host stand and waiting area. Attached to the culinary department is a traditional classroom where Kelli Desmond will teach the prerequisite courses.
The Reservation at the former high school could only seat about 35 guests; whereas the new location can comfortably seat 70 patrons. Additional seating can be added to serve more people. The dining room and services will be available for others to rent out in the afternoons and evenings.
For the first time, a deli counter will serve extra meals from The Reservation and food from class lessons. The deli will offer soups, sandwiches as well as hot and cold beverages. As of now, the deli will provide service to WHS staff and visitors.
A PROFESSIONAL KITCHEN
The kitchen is divided into two sections, the mock kitchen and a lab area for hands-on lessons. State-of-the-art machinery and appliances comprise the kitchen. The central piece of equipment is the Kitchen Island Suite.
“This is an incredibly, nice piece of equipment," Skipper emphasized. "It was custom built for us."
The suite is furnished with a charbroiler grill with a six-burner range, two French tops. “You don’t see them everywhere but more in your higher end restaurants. They are phenomenal,” Skipper inserted. The suite also includes two ovens that can be accessed through both sides of the suite, a flat top grill with two 35-pound flyers — a broiler is installed at the top of the suite.
A fire-suppression system is installed throughout the kitchen. “I’m not sure if anyone else in Waxahachie or Ellis County has something like this,” Skipper added.
The serving window includes a soup well, hot wells and a warmer for rolls. A dressing cooler, sandwich and salad prep storage and station exist in the kitchen as well as a batch ice cream maker in the corner. The ice cream was ideal in comparison to a soft served ice cream because the device is easier to clean. Skipper said the ice cream is a higher-end product as well.
The double-stacked convection oven is “top of the line," Skipper relayed, and he noted how he worked with the same equipment in his profession. The mock kitchen is equipped with additional prep areas and two-door reach–in coolers. Another upscale is the Alto Shaam Combination Oven, “which means we can use it as a steamer, an oven, smoker. It is a phenomenal piece of equipment. Everybody has them restaurants, hotels," Skipper elaborated. The device is versatile and even cleans itself.
Also, a commercial-size dish pit was constructed. Skipper's only request was that a full-size sheet tray could fit through the cleaning machine — and he's confident that he and the students can.
Another significant request Skipper had was to install a walk-in cooler and freezer. That wish was granted, as well.
The lab is comprised of a line of six, four-burner range, gas-powered stovetops and ovens and 12 workstations. Behind the stoves is a water system that prevents students from trucking large amounts of water across the lab.
“Everything is gas and on wheels," Skipper said. "We had these plugs installed, so we don’t have to move stuff all over the place, and we can hook up equipment instead of having to go and find a plug. Well, the plug is right there.”
Above each station has an electrical source handy for students to use. There is a baking area with a double stacked, deck oven, which are famous for cooking pizzas and baked goods.
They have a locker room area to store backpacks and chef attire. A room in the back is also dedicated to dry storage.
PUTTING THE SKILLS TO THE TEST
The culinary students provide meals for various events and people throughout the district, such as for athletics, the restaurant service, catered events, and the farm to table meal. The students also compete in the Family Career Community Leaders of America competitions and others, which students compete in mystery box and cupcake challenges and preparing a four-course timed-meal.
“We’ve had a lot of success. We always take a team to state each year," Skipper said. "The only time we didn’t take a team to state was the very first year I was here when it was new to all of us.”
Students who study in the culinary arts at WHS are tasked with a variety of hospitality opportunities throughout the year, he explained. “It’s a myriad of services. It’s not all about creating a plate and taking it to the table. You have a plated service, catering, boxed lunches, buffets, so we throw all of that at them.”
The Reservation will be open on Wednesdays from 11 a.m.—2 p.m. He is prepared to serve 120 people at the lunch service. A reservation to dine-in is not required but suggested. Walk-ins are welcome. If anyone is interested in hosting a meeting with a meal, contact Joel Skipper at email@example.com.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450