When South Forsyth High School senior Madeline Woodison first signed up for the school’s culinary program last year, she was skeptical.
“Originally, my mom made me do it so I would cook more around the house,” Woodison said. “I didn’t really want to do it at first, but after I [started the program] it was really fun so I kept doing it and I really like it.”
Now, in addition to cultivating a new passion, she and her classmates have more room to cook, thanks to the recent renovation and expansion of South’s culinary suite.
In January, the school’s culinary arts program moved into the new space, which was completed in December.
Aside from a new kitchen, Culinary Arts Instructor Dawn Martin said the school added a hospitality suite — including a computer lab — for hospitality and marketing students to use in collaboration with the culinary students.
A 70-seat dining room was also added, which Martin said will now allow her to teach students front of the house procedures, such as proper serving, table setting, napkin-folding and other techniques.
Previously, the program placed most of its emphasis on “back of the house,” or food preparation and cooking techniques.
A room off the back of the hospitality suite also contains lockers and a changing room for students to don their chef coats and hats.
“A couple of things we have [now] that we didn’t are the oven is computerized,” Martin said, “and we have what’s called the salamander. It’s [basically] a really cool broiler. It makes fabulous grilled cheeses or if you had macaroni and cheese and you wanted to put a little extra cheese on top and make it bubble.
“The basic changes we’ve made are we’re catering to much bigger crowds, so instead of 50 to 100, it’s 100 to 300 people, so we had to have bigger pieces of equipment to do that.”
Students will also now each be able to have a station where they can keep their equipment.
This, Martin said, will hopefully create some personal accountability.
South’s culinary program — a career pathway — has a little more than 200 students enrolled, of which about 8-10 percent move on directly to a cuisine-related job after high school.
The program can be completed in three years, with the fourth year now involving internships at local restaurants and other work-based learning environments.
Students will also now be allowed to begin taking courses in hospitality in ninth grade.
This, Martin said, will allow them to complete the culinary arts program by the end of their junior year and give them time during school hours to gain real-world work experience during their senior year.
During the first year of the program, students are required to take the introduction to culinary arts class, which introduces them to the fundamentals of food preparation terms, concepts and methods.
In their second and third years, students can enroll in culinary arts I and II, which “involve in-depth knowledge and hands-on skill mastery of culinary arts.”
Throughout the program, students must also participate in outside catering events that are supervised by culinary instructors or other Forsyth County Schools administrators.
Martin said with the new space, students can now cater to organizations such as the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce at the school.
To be able to do this, she added, the additional space was necessary.
“We were sharing the same lab, the same classroom, the same desk and it was just messing with the days that we could be in lab and we were getting behind, so it’s just really needed,” she said.
Aaron Blanding, a junior in the program, said he welcomes the new space.
“[Cooking] is something I enjoy; I’ve found a passion here,” he said. “Cooking different foods and learning different cultures and all that is [great.] Today, we made chicken, risotto, green beans and cheesecake, and we’re learning how to plate.”
Blanding will finish the program at the end of this year, after which he said he will consider an internship.
Martin said community restaurants, such as Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q and Norman’s Landing, partner with South to offer students the work-based learning experience.
Culinary students have not yet come up with a name for the new space, but Martin said they are currently in the process of rebranding and will hold a grand opening event later in the semester.