Sunday, November 19, 2017
Education

What's cooking at Northeast High's culinary arts program? $1.6 million in upgrades

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Caitlyn Kohlhorst's grandmother used to bake cinnamon rolls on the weekends and hand them out to neighbors.

Helping her grandma in the kitchen nurtured her dreams of becoming a professional pastry chef.

"I felt comfortable in the kitchen," she said. "I felt like that's the place I wanted to be."

She feels similarly at home in Northeast High's Center for Culinary Arts academy. She settled on the program last year when she moved to Florida from Ohio, and deemed it a step up from her old school.

"In Ohio, it was cramped and a little more unorganized," she said.

Soon, Caitlyn and her classmates will get to work in a bigger kitchen. And dining room.

As part of a $1.6 million campus upgrade, culinary students at Northeast will be taking lessons in a larger facility with industrial-size mixers, gas ranges, oven and freezer, said principal Kevin Hendrick and John Beck, the program's chef instructor.

Students also will get to showcase their cooking and management skills in a new dining area, they said.

"It's going to be a state-of-the-art dining room," Beck said. "There will be a prep kitchen in the back, and this will provide real-world experience for students."

The dining room will be opened to the public for "planned activities" such as conferences and half-day meetings, Hendrick said. Beck hopes to open it to the public for lunch at least once a week.

Students will get to use the new space around mid May; Northeast officials plan to formally open it when school reopens in August.

The new facilities may put Northeast on the map as a force in local culinary programs, in direct competition with those in Tarpon Springs and Dixie Hollins high schools.

"We hope to be mentioned in same sentence as them for sure," Hendrick said. "We hope to attract students of that caliber."

Northeast High's program has been around for about 10 years and has about 100 students enrolled, he said. It became one of the district's career-technical academies two years ago, which means students from all over the county can apply to attend.

Hendrick hopes to grow the program to 250 students, and plan to hire another instructor.

"With the academy status, we've just been able to do a little more and have a little extra to work with," Beck said.

The new kitchen and dining facilities are just the first steps.

Even though she's in her senior year, Caitlyn Kohlhorst looks forward to trying out the new facilities.

"I'd love to come back and see the restaurant once everything finishes up," she said.

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