Culinary Classes Train for Growing Job Market
What do you want to be when you grow up? Fireman? Lawyer? Doctor? Nurse? How about a pastry chef?
That's what Pinecrest High junior Sarah Stonesifer plans for her future. She's a member of Steve Knopfke's Foods II class and, upon graduation, will continue to seek her goal of a degree in baking and pastry arts at Sandhills Community College.
The food industry is considered to be one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the nation today. Jobs are predicted to be plentiful in the foreseeable future, with job opportunities best for those with associate's or bachelor's degrees. Before seeking her associate's degree at Sandhills Community College, Stonesifer will have completed Foods I and II at Pinecrest and Culinary Arts and Hospitality I and II at Pinckney Academy under instructor Teresa Little.
"As a matter of fact," Knopfke says, "16 of our students went on to Sandhills Community College after graduation last year to continue their culinary arts studies."
One of his students is presently doing an internship at the Pinehurst Hotel as a pastry chef and will be attending Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte in the fall.
"The people in the industry and colleges know what's going on with each other -- who are in the programs, the trends that are taking place . . . it's definitely a close group," Knopfke says. "This is one of the hottest fields in the country. The job market is booming."
The Foods I classes, which are also taught by Kristin Blackwell, and the Foods II classes, are relatively new to Pinecrest having begun only three years ago. Knopfke was recruited from Buffalo, N.Y., by Administrator for Career and Technology Programs Dr. Ted Mataxis. He received his degree in hotel and restaurant management from the New York Institute of Technology and went on to earn his master's degree in education from Buffalo State College.
Before coming to North Carolina, Knopfke had worked for hotels such as the Hyatt Regency and Marriott and spent three years working for sports services at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. He also taught culinary arts at the high school level in Buffalo.
The school's Foods I classes are focused on teaching nutrition, covering such topics as nutrients, kitchen design, vitamins, minerals, dietary plans, meal planning, etc. In Foods II, the students move into the area of advanced preparation studying the creation of various dishes, cake decorating, commercial preparation, buffet lines, table service, etc.
Foods II includes an entrepreneurship project in one of three areas -- restaurant, deli or catering. Those students who have chosen the restaurant category are providing lunch each Friday for the staff at Pinecrest High School.
Prior to implementing the project, students developed a business plan, created recipes and themes for each week's meal, worked out a budget, developed a marketing plan and chose a name for the restaurant -- The Poppyseed Restaurant.
The Friday lunch is offered for 11 weeks from March through May. Themes include "Soul Food," "Italian," "Mexican," "Cajun," "All-American," "Breakfast Fever" and others.
"The lunches have been very well received by our staff here at Pinecrest, and it's open to parents if they'd like to stop by" Knopfke says. The cost of the lunch is $6.
The students pursuing the deli category have provided sandwiches and salads on Wednesdays.
Those in the catering "business" have developed menus, choices for their customers, and a price list and are making themselves available for banquets or other gatherings.
The class provides an interesting choice for those students who may not be seeking a culinary career, too. Senior Tracie Pettitt says she plans to go into accounting one day, "but I would like to have a part-time cake decorating business on the side. I just like doing this. It's a hobby for me. Besides, it will be a great help to me in just everyday cooking at home."
At present, Knopfke's classes are utilizing one classroom that he refers to as the students' laboratory. "Dr. Mataxis has helped us a great deal in equipping our lab," Knopfke says. "We have commercial refrigeration units, new stoves, food processors, slicers, and so on. However, there's much more that's needed. Our goal is to turn this into a commercial laboratory with stainless steel work stations. The program also needs a full service meeting-conference room. The facility will need quite a bit of updating to accomplish this."
As the students served one of their lunches recently, staff members were pouring in, sitting at the tables to eat, and making a variety of complimentary comments about the food and what a great job the class had done. The students beamed with appreciation at the remarks as they scurried around to pour tea and perform other serving tasks. They were obviously enjoying their work and take great pride in what they've learned under Knopfke's leadership.
Word is spreading about the class, too. Knopfke says interest has been growing so much in the past two years that he's actually had to turn students away.
"It's a great program that offers another alternative for students who may have other interests than the traditional course of study, and it responds to a growing job market out there," Knopfke says.
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