By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Tucumcari High School’s Culinary Arts classroom, which looks for all the world like a commercial kitchen, adds a new dimension to chef Danny Hernandez’s “Chef on Demand” tour of regional high schools for the A’Viands/ Summit Foods Co.
Summit Foods provides meals under contract for Tucumcari Schools and Hernandez’s job is to head Summit’s food service operations at New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, Hernandez supervised Tucumcari High School students as they prepared dishes for cooking in the culinary arts lab. One grimacing group was slicing onions. Others were slicing zucchini. Another pair of carefully hand-whisked cream into a marinara sauce they would combine with meatballs and tortellini — a stuffed pasta, for the main course, called Tortellini Rosa.
Hernandez said the main idea of the tour is to introduce high school students to nutritious, fresh foods that may be new to them. Tucumcari High, he said, is one of the few schools on the tour that has a culinary arts classroom, so he could show students first-hand the work of food preparation for large numbers of diners.
Along with the tortellini dish, the menu for Tuesday included whole-grain breadsticks and zucchini sautéed with carrots, onions and other vegetables, and a dessert of Italian ice lemon cups.
The culinary arts classroom, Hernandez said, gives the culinary arts students a “hands-on experience in the work of a commercial kitchen. At noon, Chef Danny would perform, producing custom servings of sautéed vegetables as students watched.
For a student like senior Maria Hernandez, who wants to be a commercial kitchen chef, the experience with Chef Danny was revealing.
“I’ve always pictured myself being a professional chef and working in a restaurant,” she said. She plans to begin college studies at Platt College in Oklahoma next year.
Despite her reaction to slicing onions, Hernandez said she’s sticking to her career choice.
Paula Garrett, the culinary arts teacher at Tucumcari High, said the “prep work” the students were performing and the opportunity to watch Chef Danny work with sauté pans at an action station gives students a first-hand look at food service as a career. It is especially valuable, she said, to the students who are college-bound.