Jonathan Parham is the kind of kid teachers at C.S. Monroe Technology Center love to brag about.
For as long as he can remember, he’s loved to be in the kitchen. When his father asked him in middle school what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said he had no idea. Then it came to him: “What about cooking?” he asked.
His dad said it was a nice hobby, but not a real career. “Well, that just pushed me to want to work even harder to do well and to prove him wrong,” said Parham, who’s now 18.
He’s in his second year in Monroe Tech’s culinary arts program, where he’s gotten a taste of what a job in the industry would be like, from working as a line cook or expeditor to sous chef and even as a restaurant manager. On Thursday, he oversaw a luncheon for the French 4 students at Potomac Falls High School, his home school. He planned the menu, budgeted what each person should pay to cover his costs, and oversaw his fellow culinary arts students to execute the event. In all, he hosted 60 people for a meal of duck l’orange, potato au gratin, warm shrimp salad, and tarte tatin.
“He was like the restaurant manager. I left it all to him,” culinary arts teacher Joy Anderson said.
“It was a lot of fun, and it really went great,” Parham said.
This fall, he’ll attend Johnson & Whales University’s College of Culinary Arts. And, he added, his father has come around to the idea that his son wants a career creating and serving great food.
“I don’t think I want to own a restaurant, but I’d love to start in the kitchen and then manage a restaurant,” he said. “For sure, if I didn’t have a course like this to take I’d never get the experience I needed to see if I really liked it enough to go into it as a career.”
Anderson, who has taught at Monroe for 28 years, is concerned that school system’s administrators’ decision to cut many of the school’s class time in half will mean her students will miss out on a lot of the hands-on lessons, as well as catering jobs and prestigious competitions.
She has her students oversee and expedite regular catering jobs, not only for the experience but also to make enough money to cover food costs for the courses throughout the year. They cater school system events, like the annual principals’ luncheon, and events for outside groups such Rotary Club meetings and a recent Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office reception.
“That’s the kind of thing that we’ll have to give up when we are only meeting the minimum state standard,” she said. “Changes will have to be made. There just won’t be time for a lot of these things that have made this one of the premier culinary arts program in the state.”
She was also told this would be her students’ last year taking part in the ProStart competition, a national program for high school students interested in culinary arts and food service management. Her students have earned national certificate of achievements for participating and won more than $200,000 in scholarships.
When Loudoun’s Career and Technical Education Supervisor Lhe Smith told her the school system would no longer partner with ProStart, Anderson was on her way to accept the award for Virginia ProStart’s Teacher of the Year. “I am supposed to be a mentor for other ProStart teachers and an ambassador for the program, but now my school isn’t even doing it,” she said. “It’s a huge upheaval to our program.”
Next week, she has students in two culinary teams and two management teams competing in the ProStart state competition. They came up with menus, created the recipes, and calculated how much they would need to charge to cover their costs plus make a profit, just as they would at a real restaurant. In class Monday, they practiced making their dishes: tilapia ceviche topped with mango salsa, pan-fried scallops on a bed of mushroom risotto, and almond cookie with orange, ginger chocolate truffle encased in cheesecake.
“This isn’t like baking cookies at home. They’re really getting a glimpse of what it’s like to work in the restaurant industry,” Anderson said.
“This can still be a good culinary arts program,” she added. “But they’ll have to take out all of the things that the community sees and appreciates and the things students are so proud to be a part of.”