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.