It’s What’s Cooking

DCSD Students Train with Nationally Renowned Chefs at Culinary Summer Camp

The mouth-watering aroma of seafood dishes and chicken croquettes wafted through the kitchen at The Art Institute of Atlanta as DeKalb County School District (DCSD) students prepared meals with professional chefs.

The students are participating in the district’s Culinary and Hospitality Entrepreneurs of the Future (CHEF) camp. The culinary camp, which is split into two five-day camps out of Miller Grove High School and Tucker High School, allows students to gain hands-on experience and knowledge of the culinary and hospitality industries from professional chefs in those industries.

On June 8, the Miller Grove camp students visited The Art Institute of Atlanta and worked with nationally recognized chef and restaurateur Deborah VanTrece. Along with helping the students prepare tasty dishes, she talked to the students about international cuisine, the cultural importance of learning about other countries’ cuisines and cultural cuisines, and the relationship between cuisine and diversity throughout the world.

“I hope this experience gives them a broader look at the culinary field, at the culinary world. I hope it makes them a little more aggressive in wanting to learn and wanting to know more,” Chef VanTrece said. “I hope it helps them look forward to engaging in travel and making food a big part of that. And just learning the connection that we all have in the world through food.”

Jaliyah Martin, a rising senior at Lithonia High School, has a passion for creating and cooking, so she didn’t hesitate to register for the camp.

“It’s been really great and educational. I learned a lot about more than cooking,” she said. “I really love it, and it’s been a great experience.”

Students say one of the benefits of the camp is learning from minority chefs. For Martin, working with African-American female chefs is inspiring.

“To see people [who look] like me and to know that they accomplished something is very inspiring,” she said.

According to Chef Simone Byron, a former DCSD student and owner of Byron Hospitality Consulting, which is serving as a partner for this year’s CHEF camp, 28 percent of the restaurants in Atlanta are minority-owned. That’s the largest percentage in the nation.

“It’s important that students see entrepreneurs that look like them and are doing well in the industry so that they can see where they can be when they leave high school,” Chef Byron said. “These types of programs are invigorating and get them excited for their education.”

Along with learning how to prepare non-traditional meals, the students are learning the business side of the culinary and hospitality industries. On the last day of the camp, students will join Executive Chef Ryan Whitten at the Coca-Cola Company headquarters to learn about the fast pace of high-volume food service.

DCSD Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) Instructional Coordinator Thomas McFerrin said nearly 180 students applied for the 50 camp slots.

“We would have loved to have all 180 and not have 130 students on the waitlist, but now we can maybe look at something different for next summer,” McFerrin said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from middle school parents, so we may do a junior camp for the kids in middle school. When we finish these two weeks, we will look at what we may need to do and add next summer.”

The district currently has culinary programs in 10 high schools. McFerrin said he hopes the increased interest in the culinary camp leads to expanding the culinary program to all DCSD high schools.

“We know with the culinary industry that there are so many opportunities in restaurants, in companies, even in film and TV,” McFerrin said. “There is so much that culinary adds to those industries.”