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Local culinary students to assist celebrity chef Irvine at casino show
Five local culinary students have been chosen to assist “Restaurant: Impossible” chef Robert Irvine behind the scenes of his upcoming show on Saturday.
Gila Ridge students Andrew Kish and Christopher Bishop as well as AWC students Darold Natseway, Alberto Moreno and Joshua Hart were selected for the honor.
Irvine said that Kish contacted him directly via Facebook about his love for culinary arts and his desire to become a great chef one day.
“He spoke with such passion and eloquence, well beyond his years, that it wasn't something I could ignore,” he said.
Irvine said that he had heard that there was a possibility that the culinary program may be cut at Gila Ridge due to being underfunded. He added that he hopes the school will reconsider as the program helps teach students discipline, technique and how to express themselves through their work.
Frank Núñez, YUHSD community engagement and communications director, explained that the culinary arts program is here to stay and is one of the district's most successful programs.
“The Career and Technical Education (CTE) program of culinary arts is a very strong program that both the school administration and the district administration would love to support for the foreseeable future,” said Núñez. “One of the things we try to do through Ready Now Yuma is give students the opportunities to explore the careers that are of interest to them. The last thing we would be doing is cutting a program like culinary arts, as a matter a fact, if anything, it's going to continue to grow.”
Nevertheless, Irvine added that he believes that culinary arts programs are not only important to learn the basics of cooking, but also to learn about healthy eating.
“Teaching about using fresh ingredients and just how easy it is to prepare a meal is a step in the right direction to fight the childhood obesity epidemic going on in this country today,” he said. “When you can cook your own meals and cook them well, you are a lot less likely to head to a drive-thru.”
The students from Gila Ridge and AWC will assist Irvine during his show to make sure that the cooking portion of the live show runs smoothly and without any issues.
“Hopefully they will get to see what it takes to put on a production like this, and because we don't plan any of the dishes in advance of the show, they will see how to cook under pressure, be creative and have fun,” he said. “The live show really gives the fans an opportunity to see me in a whole different light. When people watch ‘Restaurant: Impossible' they see me under pretty intense stress and with very little patience. In the live show they get to see the real me, which is a lot more fun.”
Current Gila Ridge culinary arts programs teacher Fawn Williamson explained that students in her program had already been making a name for themselves in town prior to the show, catering various events around Yuma.
After teaching at Cibola for eight years, Williamson began teaching at Gila Ridge where she has been teaching a vocational culinary arts class as well as Basic Culinary 1 and 2 classes.
To be accepted into the vocational course, students must have already passed through her basic courses and must also interview with her to be considered. Additionally, they have to write a few paragraphs about why they want to be in the program, sign a contract to agree to work 30 hours a month outside the classroom, and also prepare their signature dish not out of a cookbook in 30 minutes using four ingredients or less.
“That's a little nerve racking for them but I just wanted to check if they could think on their toes and if they bad some basic skills and if they could be creative,” she said.
Monthly, students cater for various events ranging from holiday parties for local groups around town to baby showers and weddings. She noted that sometimes they have cooked for groups up to 400 in size and often have repeat cliental.
“It's just amazing to sit back and watch them; when it all flows together it's like a beautiful piece of music,” she said.
All tips and funds raised from their catering events on the weekends are going to fund the group of about 25 students in her vocational program to attend their summer trip.
“We're going to take a cruise to the Bahamas in July... so the kids can get in there and they can learn all about the careers for the chefs that work on the cruise ships and all about the food behind the scenes, and parents will come along as chaperones.”
She noted that while not all of her students have aspirations to become a chef in the future, the class and the trip is still a great learning experience for them.
“I tell them all the time, 90 percent of you are going to work in food service at some point in your life, and if this is not what you want to do for the rest of your life, at least be good at what you're going to do now. If you decide you want to be a lawyer or a doctor or something at least do this and this can be your fallback career,” she said.
After students graduate from her program, they can go through a nine-month certification program to become a pastry chef and will have the opportunity to make more than minimum wage as they're working their way through college.
“There are so many lessons you can learn in life from food service and working as a team, people don't understand how important this class really is,” she said. “Just think about how many more restaurants are in town now than there was five years ago, just the fact that they're going to be able to get the experience to possibly get a job that's No. 1, and second of all they're committed to working as a group and working as a team, they're responsible for each other.”
To find out how to have students from Gila Ridge cater your weekend event, call Williamson at 388-5502 for more information. She noted that the class is generally booked about a month in advance.