Just a few months ago, Ferndale High School culinary students would have to leave ovens open to generate heat inside their kitchen classroom and would often have to boil water to wash their dishes.
Now, in their brand-new kitchen space, students can focus on the food. One February morning, five high-level culinary students were hard at work slicing eggplant, zucchini and peppers, mincing garlic and onions, and pureeing tomatoes to make ratatouille.
For these students, many of whom hope to become chefs after high school, FHS’ new restaurant-level kitchen gives them a major advantage.
“We can make things that we couldn’t have in the old kitchen because we have new tools,” said junior Bailey McFerren.
“The new microwaves, ovens, sinks – everything is just a lot nicer, more high-tech,” added senior Blue Chapin. “It just feels more like an actual kitchen.”
Perhaps nobody is as thrilled with the new kitchen classroom as culinary teacher Sharon Dyches, who spent a decade teaching in FHS’ old kitchen. She said the difference between the two spaces is staggering.
“You can ask my family, I come home later than I ever did before – I don’t want to leave this place!” she said, laughing. “Coming to work in this place is like having Christmas morning every day.”
About 180 students in six culinary classes get to cook in FHS’ new kitchen classroom each semester. There is also a small group of upper-level culinary students who come to the kitchen during Dyches’ planning period, who help her set up and cater school events like prom, homecoming, and other school events.
“With the new space, one teacher’s assistant period of five students can do all the catering for the events,” said senior Tim Malpezzi. “That used to take two weeks in every class period.”
In the old FHS kitchen classroom, all of the equipment was only residential-level. The new kitchen still has residential kitchen spaces, but half of the spacious room is for professional-grade equipment used in restaurants. There’s a gas stove, a charbroiler, a flat-top griddle, a deep-fryer, commercial-grade sinks and dishwashers, and cooking gadgets galore. Even the cleaning equipment got an upgrade.
“Before if we had any spills, we had no choice but to use paper towels or washcloths,” Dyches said. “Now, we have a proper mop sink, so we don’t have to call the custodians.”
Perhaps the most exciting addition to the professional kitchen are the iCombi ovens, which Dyches called “convection ovens on steroids.” Unlike a traditional oven, where everything inside is cooked at the same temperature, an iCombi oven can cook foods at multiple temperatures at once, with highly specialized settings for foods like crème brûlée.
Of course, the residential half of the kitchen classroom also received substantial upgrades. One of the more noticeable changes is the switch from coil electric stoves to induction ranges, which use magnetic energy to cook.
“Induction cooktops are super efficient and super safe,” Dyches said. “Kids can’t burn themselves, there’s no wasted energy, they’re just really awesome.”
There are also new commercial-grade sinks with an air gap underneath to prevent clogged drains, and commercial hoods with fire extinguishers attached. In other words, it’s home-level equipment with professional-level safety features.
The upgraded kitchen classroom is huge for FHS students who hope to pursue a career in culinary arts, Dyches said. But learning professional kitchen skills will also benefit other teens, who frequently work part-time jobs in the food service industry, or those who just want to learn to cook for themselves.
“Even if they’re not going to become a chef, they may be a dishwasher at Bob’s Burgers or slinging burgers at McDonald’s; and now they have learned how to clean and use the equipment, and how to be safe,” she said.
Culinary students and Dyches expressed great appreciation for the new kitchen classroom.
“I’m so grateful to the taxpayers for giving us this new building,” Dyches said. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of and more!”