With a delectable spread of goat cheese and shrimp hors d’oeuvres, chicken piccata, crab cakes and sauce, green beans almondine and cheesecake — no one left hungry following a luncheon catered and hosted by Glacier High School culinary students and teacher Tamara Fisher.
“We’ve been working really hard to show you they’re capable of more than making cookies,” Fisher said during a presentation to restaurant and hospitality industry professionals invited by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce to showcase what the high school culinary department is accomplishing and hopes to achieve in the future.
The goal of the luncheon was also to plant the seed for starting partnerships with professionals to help students achieve certifications requiring hours working in commercial kitchens to gain real-world skills.
“Students need anywhere from 200 to 800 hours in [the] industry before they graduate” from high school, Fisher said, depending on a particular certification requirement. She said students have about three years to earn hours.
The opportunity afforded to students in obtaining certifications is that they graduate high school as entry-level chefs with industry-recognized credentials at a minimum cost to them, according to Fisher.
It costs each student about $30 for all the certifications.
“A ServSafe class alone is $150 just to take,” she pointed out. ServSafe National Restaurant Association certifications cover food management and food handling, for example.
While some of the students have obtained hours by working part-time restaurant jobs, the culinary department is piloting a ServSuccess National Restaurant Association certification program that requires 800 hours of industry service, she said. Additionally, Fisher has set her sights on joining the Montana Registered Apprenticeship program that would mean even more hours for students to obtain.
“That’s where we need you,” Fisher said.
“We can’t do it without you,” was a phrase she repeated throughout her presentation.
Other certification requirements might include completing competency tasks that aren’t all achievable in the classroom kitchen, which is not commercial grade.
“I don’t have a big grill. They’ll never be draining oil on a fryer unless they work with you,” she said.
Fisher also requested the assistance from professionals in a variety of other ways, such as joining an advisory committee to keep curriculum current, being a guest speaker, mentoring or sponsoring students for ProStart state competition and judging practical finals.
“I’m hoping that what we’re doing here will help you out there to take these future chefs and future hospitality people at the hotel and train them to your specifications, but at least they have the fundamentals,” Fisher said.
Kate Lufkin, director of education and workforce development for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, noted the luncheon was an opportunity to showcase what she views as an untapped workforce in a market that has experienced labor shortages.
“Here we have students who are trained, reliable and interested in the industry,” Lufkin said.
Sophomores Zephy Hanson and Josh Mortenson were excited at the prospect of meeting with potential mentors in the industry. Both students are on the high school’s two culinary teams headed to Bozeman in March to test their mettle in the Montana ProStart Invitational, which encompasses both culinary and management competitions.
Last year at state, the culinary team placed fifth and the management team took third.
Unsurprisingly, some of the students who enrolled in the culinary program started out cooking at home or have aspirations to pursue it as a career after high school.
“I cook at home a lot and my dad is a good chef and so he kind of inspired me to cook,” Mortenson said. “I joined the class because I thought it might be a good way to further my knowledge in the field.”
Some of those industry professionals, such as Shawnna Steele, owner of DeSoto Grill in Kalispell, offered advice to students as they seek restaurant jobs.
“I’ve been doing this since high school — dishwashing, bartending, cooking, busing, serving, general manager for 20 years and bought my own restaurant,” Steele said.
“I would love to see some of you come on board this summer, but here’s the deal — you’ve got to work. You’ve got to want to be there when the sun comes out and your friend is calling you and they want to go to the lake — say ‘no I’ve got to work today because I’m on the schedule,’ and that’s huge. A positive attitude, that’s huge. Learning is huge. We’ll teach you tons. You’ll get bored some days. It will be really repetitious some days. You’ll roll prosciutto around 300 asparagus spears one day,” but at the end of the day, the hard work is worth it, she said, and it’s fun. “If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t have done it all these years.”
Earlier, Dan Vogel, assistant director of food and beverage for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates Glacier National Park restaurants, provided advice to students as they progress in their education or seek culinary careers.
“I have an enormous amount of pressure, long days and one of the most interesting and beautiful work environments you can imagine,” Vogel said. “What you’re doing here today is of tremendous value both to yourselves and to us in the industry as well. I cannot tell you how valuable this education, this experience, is, and how, again, valuable to us and valuable to yourselves.
“I strongly encourage you to forge ahead with the kind of discipline and vision you see possible. We all know what this looks like on TV — that is not real life,” he said. “It is a blast. It is fun. It is difficult. It is challenging. It is rewarding and it’s worth doing. Stick to it.”
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.