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What's cookin'?

The creme de la creme of culinary students at Thunder Mountain High School have been sharpening their skills - and their knives - and will head to Anchorage in February to compete.

Posted: December 16, 2012 - 12:05am
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Thunder Mountain High School Culinary Arts Teacher Patrick Roach, left, and Breeze Inn chef David Moorehouse watch student Mark Uddipa cut up a chicken into eight parts during practice for their state competition in February.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Thunder Mountain High School Culinary Arts Teacher Patrick Roach, left, and Breeze Inn chef David Moorehouse watch student Mark Uddipa cut up a chicken into eight parts during practice for their state competition in February.

For some students at Thunder Mountain High School, learning the five mother sauces is as basic as the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic — these are the students who can be found taking any of the culinary classes from teacher Patrick Roach, including classes on nutrition, culinary arts and contemporary cuisine.

“(We learn) sanitation, the basics of cooking — the five sauces that everyone needs to know — fun dishes. And we’ve been cooking for the teachers — Lunch on the Go — we make a menu and we serve lunch for the teachers. It’s pretty fun.” Student Darin Donohue said of the classes with Roach.

Donohue is one of the students who has gone a step further, who is on the competitive ProStart team, which meets weekly on Wednesdays.

Chefs David Moorehead of Breeze-In and Jonah Keen of Mi Casa volunteer their time each week to mentor the team, which includes Donohue, Amanda Caldwell, Summer Wille, Mark Uddipa and alternate Brandon Johanson.

Moorehead’s interest in working with high school students is mostly about giving back to the community, though he admits it’s also “a little selfish” because he’d like to see kids with passion and skills enter the labor pool here in Juneau.

“It’s important, and I’m kind of at a stage in my career right now where I want to share some of the things I’ve learned. There’s more to it than just flipping a hamburger, there’s good food, and there’s a real desire here among these kids.” Moorehead said.

Keen said he agrees with Moorehead that Juneau could use more talent in the kitchens, but having grown up in Juneau, he said, “This is something I wanted when I was in high school, something similar, and I just wanted to help out.”

Some of the students on the team say they see working in the industry to be a viable career option, though Roach hopes learning will at the very least teach each student some basics.

“If nothing else, they learn to cook at home, and not to eat processed foods and stuff out of plastic — I consider that to be the most important thing that I do.” Roach said. But the students on the team seem to have a real passion.

“I really like cooking, too, and I love eating.” Caldwell said. “Mr. Roach had pulled aside six or seven kids and told them about the competition, and I was one of those kids and I was really interested. We’ve had a couple alternates in and out, but it’s been us four the whole time.” Caldwell said, referring to other students donning white chef’s smocks over their typical fashions, while each setting up stations with dishes, cutting boards, knives and other necessary materials.

For many students, the classroom was where they had the chance to really try things.

“I’ve been in the culinary program, taking cooking classes, since my freshman year” Johanson said. He is the only senior on the team. Roach had said he didn’t want to burden seniors with another big commitment, but said Johanson is a nice guy and shows interest in the field for a career.

Donohue has a favorite dish to prepare, something he and his family often cook. He has not had a chance to teach his fellow team mates (and if it turns out to be a secret family recipe, everyone hush).

“Zuppa de pollo gnocchi, which is chicken gnocchi soup, it’s an Italian dish that my family makes whenever we get together — it’s good.” Donohue said.

Wille grew up with her mom cooking and said she specializes in desserts. She also has been taking the classes since her freshman year and, beyond cooking, is looking forward to the chance to travel.

Uddipa, is also quite serious about becoming a chef and said he was looking at culinary programs at a recent college fair.

“I don’t have a favorite dish, but I like cooking Asian food mostly, since that’s what I eat all the time.” Uddipa said, “(My parents) still don’t trust me with a lot of stuff, because they do a lot of the cooking, and I just, I learn from here, and I learn a lot from my uncle, he owns a restaurant so I learn a lot. Everyone cooks. Everyone has a dish that they’re good at.”

Cooking seems to be important to the families’ of each student.

Caldwell’s interest in cooking and ever growing skill set — which she attributes to her dad and uncle at home, as well as her classes at school — have made her cooking a hot commodity at home. She said her dishes are desired for dinner almost daily.

“Like every night.” she said, “We go to Costco, like, twice a week. I’m just like, look at this recipe I found, we should try it! And sometimes I take recipes Mr. Roach gives to the class and I go home and try it again with my family.”

Each week, Roach tries to have the class center around a certain dish or theme. Recently, the students made lasagna from scratch — really — they made everything from the noodles to the cheese from scratch.

As for the Wednesday after school meetings, Moorehead and Keen train the students on the team in everything from proper sanitation to knife sharpening. Breeze-in donates chickens each week for the students to practice their knife skills. The first thing the students do is set up their stations, with dishes full of ice and covered in plastic wrap, buckets with bleach water for sanitizing surfaces, knives freshly sharpened — then they eight-piece a chicken. It’s required as part of the ProStart curriculum and they’ll be judged on this at the competition.

ProStart is a program of the National Restaurant Association and Moorehead said students have a lot of opportunities for scholarships through participation.

Roach brought up that participating in the ProStart curriculum through the classes or the competition has benefits for any student seeking education after high school. Students can earn up to six University of Alaska credits completing the curriculum and they will also receive certification that can be helpful in their career.

“The college credits they receive through the program can be applied to any general studies program. And if they successfully complete the first year, they get a food manager’s permit, which looks good on a resume.” Roach said.

While right now they are learning the basics, they are learning the basics needed to be a star chef, Moorehead said he expects them to learn to put together a menu, plan out how to execute it, how to make a shopping list, as well as how to prepare everything. And, he hopes they’ll learn some other skills on the way.

“It’s about team building, it’s about setting a goal and accomplishing it, whether it’s food or cuisine or just a good skill set in life.” Moorehead said. He also hopes the students will get up to Anchorage, or make it to nationals in Baltimore, and “show off a little bit of Juneau.”

For more information about the Thunder Mountain High School culinary programs or to find out if you can help, contact teacher Patrick Roach at patrick_roach@jsd.k12.ak.us or by calling 780-1943. For more information on the ProStart program, visit www.nraef.org .

• Contact Neighbors editor Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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