What differentiates a career and technical education program from traditional academic instruction is its emphasis on providing real world opportunities for students to demonstrate and apply their learning. At the Seacoast School of Technology (SST) in Exeter, this concept is seen in action nearly 7 days each week, as Culinary Arts students routinely plan for and execute meals for anywhere between 200 and 2,000 people.
According to Instructor James Collins, SST’s Culinary Arts Program differs from that at most other Career and Technical Schools around the Granite State. “The SST culinary arts kitchen is built with ‘scale’ in mind,” he said. “What scale enables and requires is a familiarity not only with various size, capabilities and differences in equipment, but also the math that goes along with it. Other important learning outcomes include timing and logistics.”
He cited the variety of ovens as one example of scale, as he noted the SST kitchen relies less on redundancy than some other kitchens, which enables students to learn in different ways.
“Ovens in the SST kitchen range from a simple deck oven used for pizzas—the current one is original to the beginning of the program—to a large combination convection oven, a conventional oven, steamers and a portable electric oven,” he said. “Having this level of choice causes the student to think strategically to match the job to the tool. It also prepares them some of the more advanced decision-making expected of an employee in a real-life application.”
He said what is equally significant about the SST kitchen is its work flow and set up.
“Our prep benches are unique and custom-designed and often emulated now,” he said. “We have 7 hand wash sinks to enable students to begin their lab assignments quickly, maximizing lab time. We have a commercial laundry setup designed to handle the multiple loads of laundry done each day. Our finishing line is better equipped than most local restaurants.”
In addition, he said their dining room is designed as a multi-purpose room with large capacity and two air walls to shrink the room to accommodate small groups he said it also has hookups for state-of-the-art audio visual technology.
SST’s state of the art kitchen is not the result of luck, however, but rather the result of an intentional planning process that began a couple years before the school’s renovation in 2008. According to Collins, committees were formed to conceptualize what SST would look like to the community in terms of programs offered, their scope and other relevant details.
“The instructors were encouraged to participate and use students and others, such as their advisory committees and outside stakeholders, to help ‘design’ their ideal learning/teaching environments,” he said. “In the case of culinary, I was fortunate to have a chef from UNH, Exeter’s Health Inspector, some other folks from the industry and students to help put together a plan for review.”
He said it was during these discussions that “scale” began to take shape as a way to differentiate SST’s Culinary Arts program from others in the state.
“Given the culinary interest in the Seacoast area, we wanted our students to be able to go out into industry prepared for what they would encounter in regard to food preparation techniques, presentation and service,” he added.