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Casa Grande High School Culinary Arts program is more than learning about cooking.

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From basic cooking lessons, to local competitions, to catering for weddings and parties, Casa Grande High School’s Culinary Arts program proves how community-oriented the students are.

Decked out with a commercial kitchen and equipment, the Culinary Arts classroom is set up to make students feel like they’re working in a real kitchen. Students are taught basic cooking, baking and cleaning skills to prepare them to work in a professional setting, or to simply learn culinary skills to cook at home.

Between washing dishes and plating food, the students also fulfill one of their A through G requirements, which are the required seven subjects that must be completed for acceptance into the University of California system. The “G” requirement, which is a college prep elective, is fulfilled if you take Culinary Arts.

“It’s one of the best classes, in my opinion, in terms of translating what we learn in class to real world work,” said Nataly Chavez, a senior who has been in the program for two years. “You realize quickly the seriousness of working in any field of work because if you slack off at all, everyone is affected, especially with food because of the extensive dangers of food-borne illnesses.”

Chavez adds, “I now work as a waitress, so not only has it (the class) prepared me for that, but just general work experience and developing the mentality of being a self-starter and improving my organization, management, leadership and teamwork skills.”

The Culinary Arts class is limited to preparing food for school events, such as making bites for the teachers during their faculty meetings; preparing meals for garden work days; making to-go lunches for the teachers; and cooking up food for the holiday fair.

However, dedicated students, and anyone else who is interested, are able to join the Catering Club, an extension of the class. Students in the club cater Sonoma County events including Luma Con and booster meetings. Coined as Big House Catering, the club has its own website (casagrandeculinary.weebly.com) where it lists menus for catering services. It includes dishes like yogurt panna cotta with meyer lemon curd, chicken shawarma and harissa.

“Catering Club has benefited me as a senior, seeing it as a point that I’m going on to college. I can cook for myself, and I can make food without having a huge budget. It also helps me with my college applications, and it helps me with job applications,” said Alejandra Torres, a senior in the Culinary Arts class and president of the Catering Club.

The club has competed in events such as Chefs of Tomorrow and SkillsUSA. These students’ talents won them the Judges Choice award at Chefs of Tomorrow in 2016, and People’s Choice award in 2017. The students sample all kinds of global cuisine to incorporate diversity into their dishes, but for competitions they like to develop their own creative recipes.

“I think the most important concept that I want my students to have, besides the fundamentals of cooking, is developing a personal sense of work ethic,” said Culinary Arts teacher Pamela Gutierrez. “Everything that we prepare in here, whether it’s for our food labs or the food that we serve to the public, requires strong teamwork and accountability so that everybody pulls their weight because there’s so many pieces from food safety, the quality of the food, the artisanship of the food, and if you have a strong team you can hit all those marks, and if you don’t, you’re going to fall short.”

As opposed to Home Economics, Culinary Arts is a class that focuses on food preparation and skills that prepare students for the working field. It pushes them to be ready for a career in the future — it’s not simply preparing them to work in a kitchen, but any job. The class reinforces the importance of getting things done and not slacking, an essential skill for any job.

Alice Antony is a senior at Casa Grande High School and a member of the Argus-Courier’s student reporter program. To learn more about this program, email emily.charrier@arguscourier.com.