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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Brent Boultinghouse serves as an instructor in San Juan High School’s Culinary Arts career pathway program, where dozens of students each year gain hands-on experience and training in the food service and hospitality industry.
“I encourage our students to develop a healthy relationship with food. Learning to cook is a life skill,” said Boultinghouse in a recent interview with The Sentinel about the culinary program. “We’re also trying to have kids understand there are tremendous jobs in the restaurant industry if they set their minds in that professional direction as a career.”
San Juan culinary arts students graduate with California food handler certificates and professional portfolios in addition to their regular high school diplomas. They train 1-2 hours per day while attending regular classes towards high school graduation and also help run the Thermopylae Café, which is located on campus.
Each spring, the culinary program sends one team to ProStart, a National Restaurant Association competition held in Los Angeles, where students compete with other high school culinary students throughout California in hopes of winning scholarships, prizes and the chance to compete at the national level.
Student competitors put their skills to the test in front of industry leaders, state restaurant associations, and family and friends — all with hope of earning coveted scholarships from the nation’s best culinary and restaurant management programs.
Boultinghouse, a graduate of Baylor University, spent eight years as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District as the founder of Bistro Mundo, a student-run restaurant on the campus of Santee Education Complex, where he served as coordinator for its food service and food service management academy. He worked as a culinary arts instructor in the Pleasanton and Jefferson Union High School districts in the greater San Francisco Bay area before starting at San Juan High.
He treats his students like the budding culinary professionals they one day will be, preferring using the term “house” as a synonym for the Thermopylae Café, where they practice and demonstrate their skills.
Boultinghouse is pulling double-duty as a culinary arts instructor this school year. A full-time bakery instructor did not return this fall, and interviews by the San Juan Unified School District are ongoing to hire an instructional aide to assist him, he said.
San Juan, which has a student enrollment of 620 students, offers four individual career technical education (CTE) pathways which including media, culinary arts, automotive and construction.
“We’re actively looking for more students to consider enrolling in each of our CTE pathways in the years ahead,” said school principal Vanessa Adolphson.
The San Juan school district offers open enrollment, giving students the opportunity to attend a neighborhood public school, or another public school within the district of their choice. The city’s two high schools, Mesa Verde and San Juan, offer traditional and (CTE) pathways. Both are accepting new students.
During each school year, San Juan culinary arts students increase their experience on field trips taking tours of Sacramento hotels and restaurants as they learn tips and receive advice from professional chefs. Academic work includes classes in nutrition and international cuisine to learn the basic components of food and the different flavors found throughout the world, Boultinghouse explained.
“In the classroom, I stress attention to detail with emphasis on technique and repetition,” he said. “While students continue to build on their fundamental skills how to cook and work in a restaurant, they, as future professionals, must know how to be consistent in making 100 plates the same way each and every time.”
San Juan’s culinary arts students also do a considerable amount of catering for the district, including board meeting events, and principal’s breakfasts.
“We’ve also honored quite a few catering requests from San Juan school alumni,” he said.
Not all participating culinary arts students want to become chefs. Some may prefer to move into a career in restaurant management, Boultinghouse said.
“When a student leaves our program at San Juan High, they should be able to walk into any commercial restaurant and start working as a prep cook,” Boultinghouse said. “Where they go from there depends on their personal passion and their professional interest.”
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Those interested in tasting some of the students’ culinary creations have an opportunity to purchase tickets for a five-course gourmet dinner meal on Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Thermopylae Café. The dinner serves as a fundraiser to help send students to the upcoming ProStart competition next year.
The Thermopylae Café typically seats 75, but only 50 individual tickets will be sold for this public event, Boultinghouse said. The cost per ticket is $50 per person, which can be ordered by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations are required.
“It’s an evening for our students to shine and for our dinner guests to savor some truly delicious dishes.”
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