Teach a Person to Cook…
Crossing Culinary Arts program anchors students to school
Seventeen-year-old Julia Orr wears a floppy black chef hat over her long dark-brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. As she starts to sauté sliced onions, peppers and mushrooms for lunch, I notice she has a thermometer poking out of the left arm pocket of her white double-breasted chef coat. She lifts the pan off the gas burner and flips the veggies confidently. A flame shoots out from below and a big smile breaks out on her face.
“Did you see that flame?” says Julia. “That was pretty cool.”
When I visited the Crossing Culinary Arts students at Cultivate Culinary School & Catering in March, it was their first week in the “new” 3,000-square-foot kitchen space at the old Madison Center building on Niles Street in South Bend. They were taking a break from cleaning the space to make smothered chicken breast for lunch.
“We prep and cook every day as they learn life skills in the kitchen and are assured a quality meal for the day,” says Chef Randy Ziolkowski, who launched Cultivate at the South Bend Crossing high school in the fall of 2015 after his restaurant, Edward Christian Dining in Bremen, closed its doors. Ziolkowski was busing students out to Bremen to train them in the restaurant before they secured this fully stocked kitchen.
“I love to see their expressions and the pride they have when they can cook for themselves,” says Ziolkowski, who used to host a cooking show called Comfortable Cooking with Randy Z for five years on WHME 46 TV. “It’s rewarding to see that they are excited about coming in and their overall attendance in school is improving, and they are proud.”
A path to culinary arts
The Crossing is a faith-based high school for at-risk youths like Julia who weren’t successful in traditional public schools for any number of reasons—from getting behind after a family member passed away unexpectedly, to experimenting with drugs, or simply not having enough support at home.
Approximately 15 Crossing students have participated in the culinary arts program since it started, and the new space should allow Cultivate to serve 40 to 50 students each year. The basic life skills course teaches students how to shop and cook nutritious meals on a budget.
“Culinary arts is so much more than making a grilled cheese,” says Ziolkowski. “There is safety, hygiene, health codes, a lot of math, scheduling, timing, calculating, communicating, planning, operating equipment, cleaning, shopping and making healthy choices.”
Students interested in working in the industry can move on to intermediate and advanced courses. The final step of the program is interning for a full year at a local restaurant or within the student-run catering business.
“There are two teams in the culinary arts catering business,” says Jim Conklin, who serves on the Crossing work team committee. “The production team plans, prepares and runs the events. The operation team handles the sales, marketing and administrative tasks of the business.”
Back on track
Julia is the team leader for the operations side of the student-run business, which has catered more than a dozen small events and plans to make lunch for a nearby daycare and sell box lunches to people working in the surrounding business complex. She ended up at the Crossing after dropping out of the Clay High School performing arts magnet program halfway through her sophomore year.
Julia really liked choir but didn’t like the big classes or the long drive to school. She says she was lazy and just didn’t want to get up early, but it was more than that.
Julia’s family was hit with some very serious news just two weeks into her freshman year. Her dad was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.
“We were married 17 years,” says Julia’s mom, Bonnie. “We were a team. We found out he was sick and within a year he passed away. He went through the chemo, we watched every moment of it, and he passed away in our arms.”
Over the six months after her dad died, Julia struggled to get motivated in school. She slipped out of the routine, missed too many classes and eventually dropped out. “It did have a lot to do with my dad passing away,” says Julia. “He used to make me go to school, and my mom was really hurting at the time.”
Bonnie says it felt like her girls were “totally out of control,” so she quit a good job to focus on getting Julia and her sister back on track.
They tried online school first, but it didn’t work out. Then they heard about the Crossing.
“They loved it,” says Bonnie. “Totally changed their attitude. The Crossing is a small school, so the teachers are right there and they’ve got one-on- one attention.”
Julia connected with Chef Ziolkowski after she started in the culinary arts program last year. The more she learned, the more confident she became.
“I found out I could be creative with it. Time and temperature is all it takes,” she says. “Before I didn’t even know I could make marinade in my own kitchen; now I can just throw it together.”
In the spring of 2016, Julia started losing motivation and missing school again. And though she was required to take a break from school until the next session started, she kept coming for culinary arts. “Chef said he wasn’t going to give up on me,” says Julia. “He called to check on me and had me there every day for culinary arts.”
After the short break, Julia is back in school and on track to graduate in the spring of 2017.
Cultivate Culinary School & Catering’s mission is to end the cycle of joblessness, poverty and hunger in northern Indiana through culinary arts education and job training. The program is expanding beyond the Crossing and will soon enroll other area youth and adults in partnership with local schools, shelters, civil and religious organizations, and private businesses. Cultivate was originally funded by a generous private donation and will continue to rely on grants, donations and sponsorships, including a partnership with the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. For information on how to volunteer, donate or cater an event through Cultivate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossing Educational Center
3717 S. Michigan St.
South Bend, IN
South Bend, IN