Chef Rodney Barth offered students in Cherise Wry's culinary arts II class the choice of two cinnamon rolls — one plain and the other garnished with a maraschino cherry.
“You're naturally drawn to the cinnamon roll with the maraschino cherry because of the color,” Barth told the Blair High School students. “The reason for that is people eat with their eyes. It's true.”
Barth and Chef Doug Taylor, who work for the district's food service company, Taher Professional Food Management, visited the class Thursday to teach the students about garnishing.
The students created frogs made from a cucumbers, carrots and grapes; tulips made from cucumbers, radishes and carrots; roses from fruit peels; and a parmesan cheese bowl, which can be used to plate a salad.
Barth also showed the students how he carves a water melon into decorative art.
“It's very rewarding to work with the students,” Barth said. “You get to open their eyes to different aspects of cooking besides just what they see in restaurants.”
This is the third year Barth has worked with Wry's class.
“It's fun for the kids to see and hear from professional chefs not just their teachers,” Wry said. “We'd like to expand it more down the road to see what more we could do with Taher. Again, they have chefs. Very few school systems have chefs accessible to the students. It's really neat.”
Barth and Taylor work with students at least three time through the school year. In addition to garnishing, students also learn candy making and pastas, including perogies, which are small dough dumplings.
Barth, who has worked as a chef for 37 years, began his career in the military. Originally, a paratrooper for the U.S. Army, a parachuting accident caused him to rethink his career. The Army offered him a chance to study culinary arts.
“I was lucky enough to make the culinary team and I got to travel all over the world just doing this — decorating food,” he said.
Wry, who is in her sixth year with the district, has tried to transform her classes from what has traditionally been a home economics type class and give the students an opportunity to look at cooking as a possible career.
“What I've tried to do is take it from home cooking type food to more of the culinary arts,” she said.
Culinary arts I is the basic class, Wry said, where students learn to use recipes and measure ingredients.
Culinary arts II offers more in-depth cooking, such as creating and flavoring their own food.
“By this level, I want them to be more independent and able to do that,” she said.
Wry has had several students enroll in Metropolitan Community College's culinary arts program after high school.
“I want them to experience this because not every student will go to a four-year college,” she said.
Junior Haley Baker is a member of the BHS culinary team. She saw the opportunity to work with the chefs as a way to grow the team's skills.
“We need to know how to garnish our plates really well,” she said. “It's really cool to have chefs come and teach us the different ways and help us get better and make our food look prettier on the plate.”
While she hasn't yet decided what she will do after high school, Baker said culinary arts is appealing.
“I think it's something that I could be interested in after school because it's so fun to learn all the different things you can do with food,” she said.