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Students cook up careers at Carver

Chris Dorst
(From left) Brittany Lane and Denise Lee slice potatoes under the direction of chef Thomas Grant while Cierra Broughton and Jonathan Vickers make the creamy sauce for potatoes dauphinoise.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chef Thomas Grant began cooking when he was 14 years old. He grew up in restaurant kitchens. His parents owned and operated the former Ernie's Esquire on Capitol Street and Wellington's in Poca.

Today he offers hands-on culinary instruction to high school and adult students through the ProStart and Apprenticeship programs at Carver Career & Technical Center near Malden. He's instructed adults for six years, but this school year is the first opportunity he's had to work with the high school ProStart students.

The ProStart students spend part or all of their days at Carver instead of their high schools. They don chef's togs and wield whisks and saucepans and follow Grant's instructions on how to use them.

Along the way, they discern whether a culinary career is for them. Some continue after graduation in the adult apprenticeship program, while others choose a different route.

Last week, students were chopping potatoes and tossing them with a creamy sauce to make oversized pans of potatoes dauphinoise. Earlier this semester, they mastered yeast doughs, making mouthwatering pepperoni, cinnamon and dinner rolls.

"This is fun. I like being in the kitchen," said Brittany Lane, 17, and a junior at Herbert Hoover High School. "My mom says she's going to start having me cook dinner."

Whitney Harrison, a senior at George Washington High School, takes her training especially seriously. She and ProStart students from another Carver class will compete in the statewide Hospitality and Education Training competition in March in Morgantown. They'll have one hour to make a salad, entrée and dessert under the judges' watchful eyes.

Harrison and the entree team will make a seared duck breast with duck sausage with parsnip puree and braised kale, cherry and orange compote au jus.

Two ProStart students recently accompanied Grant to the Cast Iron Cook-off at The Greenbrier, where they assisted students from Pierpont and Mountwest post-secondary culinary programs.

Students who pursue culinary careers benefit from competitions because they are likely to be competing at all levels. Richard Rosendale, who studied in The Greenbrier's Apprentice program at the same time as Grant, recently competed in Bocuse d'Or, the premier competition in the world.

Post-secondary school graduates may continue culinary instruction through Carver's two-year adult apprentice program. If they complete the grueling program in which they work 40 hours a week in a restaurant as well their classroom hours, they'll be certified sous chefs through American Culinary Federation.

"Our student team just won the state ACF competition and will be competing in New York in March," he said.

Grant's ProStart students work in the kitchens with apprentice students who prepare lunch on Wednesdays for other students in the school.

"It's a great opportunity to work with more experienced students. When I was an apprentice at The Greenbrier, I learned a lot from other apprentices. You pass it on," he said.

Before ProStart students begin cooking, they spend weeks in the classroom learning about safety and sanitation.

"There's a lot of math -- decimals and fractions. They'll use this all the time," said Grant, who frequently fields student queries about math's usefulness. "They had to learn to convert recipes. Most are written for six to eight servings and they'll have to convert it to a much larger amount."

Grant's years in restaurant kitchens give him street cred with the students. Before he took over Wellington's kitchen, he trained under noted chefs Peter Timmins and the late Robert Wong in the apprentice program after he graduated from Poca High School.

He was chef de cuisine at Wellingtons when he exited the restaurant business and its long, demanding hours for a more reasonable work schedule as an instructor when he and his wife had children.

"This was a big leap from 12-hour days six to seven days a week to a five-day work week," said Grant. "At first my wife and I didn't know what to do on Saturdays."

If his family's looking for a good meal on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., they'll find it at the Heart & Soul Dip Dinner at the East End Family Resource Center. Grant and his students will prepare and serve braised pork shoulder and navy bean cassoulet at the fundraiser for the after-school and adult programs at the center.

For more information on Carver Career & Technical Center, visit www.carvercareercenter.edu or call 304-348-1965.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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