Photo by Jeylin White
Charles Drew High School culinary students Belinda Sean (from left), Heaven Fagan, Jerome Ramos, Destiny Hunt and Governor Nathan Deal.
RIVERDALE — The Charles Drew High School ProStart/Culinary Arts program had the honor of preparing appetizers for Governor Nathan Deal and 300 legislators.
In fact, they were the only high school on deck at this year’s “Culinary Tasting,” hosted by the Georgia Restaurant Association, which was held earlier this month at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot near Underground Atlanta.
“I couldn’t have been prouder,” said Lee Gray, director of the Georgia Hospitality Foundation. Gray also provided the funds for the food prepared by the students at the event.
“These students did an incredible job representing Georgia ProStart,” said Gray. “Charles Drew were a benchmark for all students.”
Margaret June, the Culinary Arts instructor at Drew High School — also affectionately referred to by her students as Chef June — had a lot to smile about during the event.
June said she was showered with accolades from dignitaries about “the students having the best dish of night and the scallops were cooked perfectly.”
“I thought only career academics could work at this level and I can’t believe this is a school,” Gray said.
June said the school was recently recognized by ProStart for having the best program in their region. ProStart is a culinary arts program of the National Restaurant Association that works with high school programs across the country.
June has also been recognized by the Clayton County Board of Education for “Outstanding Achievement,” in running a successful culinary program at her high school.
Since the launch of the program four years ago, students have been able to show off their skills in several competitions and cook-offs, on the regional and state levels. Those competitions, she said, include the prestigious Family Career Community Leaders of American Culinary Competition, a state event held in Athens.
“We came home with the silver medals,” she said, “which is the same as second place.” When not competing in such challenges, the budding chefs have a lot to keep them busy in the program.
“Students run the concession stand for all the basketball games,” she said. The kitchen for the concession stand is run like “a fast-food restaurant” and students cook all of the food. “They cook hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and cookies,” she said.
According to June, most of the students who participate in the program have an interest in starting a career in the culinary field. To the students’ benefit, she said, by participating in this program, they acquire skills that most will not master until after high school.
“My students learn skills they can apply at any restaurant, which gives them an edge over an average person,” she added.
Another benefit, she said, is that students who decide to attend college-level culinary programs at Atlanta Tech, The Art Institute of Atlanta, and La Cordon Blue, can receive college credit, and bypass having to take certain courses as incoming freshmen.
The Georgia Family, Career, Community Leaders of American has named Charles Drew High School’s Candace McClain Region Four officer for 2012-2013 board, said June.
June added her goal for this year’s students is to provide them with more internship opportunities.
“I want my students to start connecting with real-world experience,” she said.