By Selwyn Harris
It’s a kitchen that would make homemaker maven Martha Stewart green with envy.
The new culinary classroom at Pahrump Valley High School is described by instructor Jan Rubin as state of the art in all facets of the culinary industry.
“This kitchen is a million and a half dollar kitchen and it has one of the finest cooking units you can buy. A lot of good money has been put into this. We are training the students how to use it because this is out of their realm of experience and they have nothing like this at home.
“The students cook with propane but most of the kids are used to electric stoves, which we had in our old kitchen. We had little individual kitchenettes and each was self-sustained but not like here. They learn to work what we call the “brigade system” and it was founded and put together by a French chef back in the 1800s where everyone has a job to do like prep chefs, line chefs, dish people, and bakers around the ovens. Everybody is doing a job for the common good,” she said.
Rubin noted that the sheer size of the kitchen allows students ample room to make their way around the facility without getting in each other’s way as they prepare dishes.
“In the old area, each kitchen looked like the kitchen they have at home and we had five kitchenettes so the kids were familiar with that but now they are learning a whole different way of food preparation, culinary art terminology, and learning to work together under what we call the brigade system with new equipment,” she said.
The kitchen is all stainless steel with dozens of brand new appliances at the student’s disposal.
Rubin said she is especially proud of a new deep fryer with a 50-gallon oil capacity.
“That is a lot of oil at one time and it has a neat filtering system and it has two deep cabinets. On one side we can do vegetables and potatoes, and on the other side we can do for fish or something else,” she said.
As she made her way around the vast kitchen, Rubin was like a kid in a candy store, proudly showing and describing what her students are using to prepare meals. One item in the kitchen she said was costly, but worth it.
“This is a Convo Therm and it is a $38,000 piece of equipment. It does everything. You can probably move the racks and put in about six turkeys and roast them all at one time and it does everything. It has a built-in cookbook and it is pre-programmed with about 80 different recipes and it is almost automatic, but we have not done a whole lot with it because we are still learning.
“You can put French fries in it to make them more healthy than the fried ones. It actually has a feature on it called ‘crisp and tasty.’ You can hit the button in the program and bake the fries and they will come out just as if they were deep fried,” she said.
Another item Rubin said she is proud to have in the culinary classroom is a convection oven, which she said is also new to the students.
“It has a fan built in the back and it will cook the food much faster; plus it provides for a much more thorough and even baking. We have to make adjustments though because most recipes call for oven temperatures of conventional ovens. With the convection oven you have to lower the degrees about 25 to 50 percent less.
“We are still experimenting with this because we really don’t have a whole lot of adjustment, so you kind of have to play with it a little bit,” she said.
Aside from the size of the culinary classroom, one thing that becomes quite noticeable is how clean the facility is.
Rubin said she demands the students make sure the kitchen is up to state health standards as far as cleanliness is concerned.
“We just got through two and a half weeks of personal hygiene, cleaning, and sanitizing. We have to remember that we are talking from the commercial restaurant point of view, so they can go out and be ready to get an entry level job and they will probably be ahead of most people who will be applying for the same position.
“My kids are putting together a portfolio as we speak and a collection of recipes and things they make and cook this year. They are also taught to work with each other, communication, customer service, and food safety, which is a very big thing. If you make someone sick, you can certainly make your restaurant go out of business,” she said.
Rubin made clear that students just don’t sign up for the culinary classroom and begin preparing recipes.
She said that her new students spend a majority of time studying and doing classroom assignments covering the introduction to hospitality management and the history of food service as well as food safety.
“We do an awful lot of book work. They learn the knowledge and then they apply that knowledge as we go into the kitchen. They are taught to dress in proper cooking attire. We supply aprons and we have skullcaps. They always need to wash their hands. We have professional sinks. If you don’t have one of these, the Nevada Health Department can shut you down,” she said. “They also learn basic cooking techniques and basic kitchen equipment. They don’t get to hold a kitchen knife in their hands until the second year and they have to be committed and understand that this is really what they want to do.”
On the cooking end, Rubin said she also teaches her students how to prepare dishes that require a high level of skill.
“They learn basic soups and stocks. They learn about potatoes, grains and vegetables. I teach them Baked Alaska, specialty deserts. They learn how to make omelets or at least they try. Some chefs have told me that they had to make 80 omelets before they perfected it where they had no brown,” she said.
On Tuesday, students were in the kitchen preparing a breakfast item — waffles.
Cinthya Aguiler, a junior, said she likes the class.
“It’s real good so far and I am so glad that we got a new kitchen. It is really fun and you get to spend a lot of time with your friends. We really haven’t made a lot so far but we made waffles today,” she said.
Jessica Hooton said she may pursue a career in the culinary arts industry.
“I really like to bake. I love brownies and cakes and cookies,” she said.
Jasmine Corral, who said she is leaving her options open in terms of a career field, echoed the words of her classmates about the class.
“I really like it, especially now that we are getting in the kitchen. I think it’s cool that we get to be around our friends even though we are learning,” she said.
Kristal Kaiwi noted she has no plans for employment in food service but said she was very impressed by the culinary kitchen.
“I am so glad we got the new kitchen because it is bigger than the other one. We only prepared waffles today, but I hope we get to prepare a lot more than that and more difficult ones,” she said.