Junior chefs at the Woodland Park High School made a public splash this month with their culinary bonanzas at a recent community event. In a round of tastings, guests were remarking on the junior chefs’ harvest salad, their braised quail and tiny pumpkin patch parfaits.
“I always wanted to have kids work in the kitchen,” said David Maki, director of nutrition services, who initiated the Jr. Chef Program last year.
With five children in the district, Maki had a head start on signing up youthful trainees.
While the school did have a catering service, Maki threw out the standard fare, spaghetti and lasagna, updated the menus and, in the process, turned students into chefs.
“We went to higher-end items with chef action stations where the kids cook to order,” said Maki, who works for Chartwells, a food-service company.
Until recently, the chefs cooked and catered meals only for district functions. “We’re expanding that, getting some outside catering,” Maki said.
With catering gigs such as the Taste of Teller fundraiser this month, the chefs contribute revenue to enhance the program. “You know how the school budget is — chop, chop, chop,” Maki said. “When I got here things were pretty dismal.”
With new attitudes about food and a focus on wellness, Maki has elevated the catering experience in addition to jazzing up the cafeteria fare. “My kids wouldn’t eat school lunch; I’d been packing school lunches for 12 years,” he said. “We’ve made the food a lot healthier, wellness is our first priority. The quality is better and the kids want to eat.”
Maki’s program is in conjunction with Angela Cunningham’s intermediate foods class and is in line with the district’s initiation of a wellness program supervised by Heidi Howard.
With declining enrollment in the district and deep budget cuts, Maki’s chefs are chasing the revenue. “We increased our catering 500 percent since we started,” he said. “We’ve doubled our sales in two years with fewer students.”
The menus are enticing. For the district’s leadership luncheon, the chefs served braised buffalo sliders with caramelized onions and goat cheese, teriyaki chicken sliders and Caribbean broccoli stew. For a luncheon with the superintendent and members of the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce, the chefs service Chicken Emily, wild rice quinoa pilaf, green salad, golden butternut squash and turtle brownies.
“I’m ecstatic that we have the Junior Chef program to give our kids opportunities to study the culinary arts,” said Jed Bowman, RE-2 superintendent. “The program, under David Maki, gives kids the experience of catering throughout the community.”