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LAUSD develops culinary arts students while promoting healthy lifestyle

Cooking up Change competition prepares students for a culinary arts career

Jason Lewis | 2/6/2014, midnight
Dorsey High School senior Javon Jackson (middle) has taken her cooking hobby to the next level with the guidance of Sonia Mason-Briscoe (right), Dorsey’s culinary arts teacher./OW Photo by Jason Lewis

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Dorsey High School’s team prepared their teriyaki melt, broccoli slaw, and tropical delight without any salt and very little sugar./OW Photo by Jason Lewis

Years ago at the high school level students took “Home Economics” or “Foods” and many students simply called it “cooking class.” But times have changed, as these classes are now looking like Bravo Channel’s “Top Chef.” The term “cooking class” does not do these programs justice, as culinary arts classes in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are teaching students the theories behind this art, and they are preparing students to enter into the profession.

Dorsey High School was one of nine schools to participate in the LAUSD’s “Cooking up Change” competition, which was held at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. The program at Dorsey, like at other LAUSD schools, has made great strides with their culinary arts curriculum.

“The training that is given, it’s rigorous,” said Sonja Mason-Briscoe, culinary arts teacher at Dorsey. “It gets the students ready for an internship, or to go and get a job, or to be accepted into some of the college programs. What’s being taught at the high school level is an entry for those who would want to pursue that as a career.”

Mason-Briscoe is in her first year as the culinary arts teacher at Dorsey, and she has seen eight Dorsey alumni who are chefs or restaurateurs, who first studied culinary arts at the high school level, come back to talk to the current students about the profession.

Dorsey’s team consisted of Javon Jackson, Phillip An-Perez, and Andres Sanchez. Jackson, who is a senior, has been cooking for years, but through the culinary arts program she has taking her hobby to the next level.

“Now I can fix different foods that I never thought that I could make,” Jackson said. “Instead of the usual home cooked meals, I can cook real cuisines.”

Jackson’s family is appreciative of her knowledge and skills around the kitchen, as her home cooked meals are now on par with major restaurants. Working in an industrial kitchen for the first time has allowed her to enhance her skills. She plans to major in biology or sociology in college, and hopes to stay local and attend either UCLA or UC Santa Barbara, but culinary arts will also be a part of her future.

The Cooking up Change competition promotes healthy eating, so Dorsey’s team prepared their teriyaki melt, broccoli slaw, and tropical delight without any salt and very little sugar.

“Cooking healthy is extremely important, especially in the urban community,” Mason-Briscoe said. “It’s natural for us to use salt and oils, and other types of fats and high carbs. With this, we were definitely trying to stay away from those. So they learned a lot of alternatives. The students were able to build their palates to know what would actually give it that salty flavor, but not use salt.”

Studies have shown that cooking healthy meals can help combat obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, all of which affect the African of American community.

“Cooking up Change students now understand the challenges food services face creating delicious and nutritious meals for thousands of school children,” said David Binkle, Director of Food Services at LAUSD. “The menu items presented during the competition are unique, and the food services team and I will take into consideration as we plan out next school year’s menu.”

As for the competition, Dorsey’s team received great reviews from the judges, as did the other teams that competed. The winning team came from Manual Arts High School and which consisted of Jenifer Mendez and Kimberly K. Sanchez, who will move on to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Even though Dorsey’s team did not win the competition, they had a great time and were extremely proud of their efforts.

The Los Angeles Cooking Up Change competition was sponsored by LAUSD’s “I’M IN” campaign, an all-inclusive program designed to raise awareness about the District’s healthy meals to held fight off childhood obesity, as well as to encourage student attendance and dropout prevention. For more information on the “I’M IN” campaign, visit www.facebook.com/iminlausd.