Cooking up something special: Culinary arts classes look to the future

Feb. 1, 2024

A teacher works with two students during a culinary arts classInside of Gene Fritz’s culinary arts class at Battle Ground High School, students are busily chopping, mixing, measuring and baking up delicious dishes. A similar scene unfolds at Prairie High School as teacher Britt Pedlar goes from station to station, answering questions and providing advice.

“I take a lot of Advanced Placement classes, so it’s great to come in here and just have some fun working with other people and figuring things out,” said Alyssa Woodling, a junior at Prairie.

“We work really well together,” agreed fellow junior Dekota Houfek. “Even though we seem to take a long time, we always get things done.”

A culinary arts classroom at Prairie High School

The culinary arts classroom at Prairie High School is spacious, but lacks modern equipment

“This is so much more than just cooking. These are 21st century skills,” Pedlar said. “It’s collaboration, it’s communication, it’s problem solving, it’s troubleshooting. Those things are going to make them productive employees regardless of where they go.”

The results, highlighted in Fritz and Pedlar’s Instagram account (2 dudes in food), are undeniably delicious, artistic and impressive. 

Missing a key ingredient

“Students are learning foundations and life skills here,” Pedlar said, “but if they decide to go into the industry, the line boss or chef is having to take the time to train them on how to use their professional equipment.”

That’s because the kitchen spaces these classes use are essentially stuck in the era of home economics, with home-style electric ovens and other equipment, much of which harkens back to the ’70s or ’80s.

Commercial stoves, sinks and counters in a culinary arts class at Mountain View High School

Recently updated culinary arts spaces at Mountain View High School in the Evergreen School District feature modern equipment in line with industry standards. Photo courtesy Evergreen Public Schools.

“A lot of our stuff is pretty run down,” admitted BGHS junior Isabella Brenes. “We recently had to even glue one of our whisks together. The sinks overflow and sometimes the ovens don’t work as well as they should.”

Falling behind the times

“The disparity that currently exists is that we don’t have an industry-aligned culinary arts instructional facility,” Fritz said. “We would like for students to not be basically at ground zero when they enter the workforce.” 

Fritz and Pedlar both said their contacts within the food services and hospitality industry have made it clear: Students graduating from Battle Ground Public Schools are more likely to be passed over for jobs in those industries after they graduate, or face a steeper learning curve due to not having experience using equipment designed for commercial kitchens.

Stacks of blender parts and other items

Storage space is at a premium for culinary arts students at Battle Ground High School

If approved by voters, a three-year capital levy on the Feb. 13 special election ballot would include funding to improve the culinary arts spaces at both high schools. This would include better ventilation, industry-grade ovens and countertops, updated industry-standard prep equipment more.

“The hope is that we can help students build skills and confidence that would translate to living wage jobs,” said Fritz. “We want them to be able to quickly progress into managerial and leadership roles.”

More information about the capital levy can be found on the district website.

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