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May 18, 2024

First Class of Culinary Arts Program

Students at Bayou Academy have unique learning experience

By JENNIFER MINYARD

The Bolivar Bullet

Students at Bayou Academy have a unique learning choice in the school’s curriculum. Nineteen students have been given the opportunity to be members of the first class in the school’s new culinary arts program.

“Let me just start by saying that we really value the arts in the Delta and so at our school we want to emulate that and give kids an outlet,” said Bayou Academy head of school Curt McCain. “About 80% of our students are involved in extracurricular activities but many of our students are looking for additional outlets. 

“Three years ago, we completely overhauled our visual arts program — your painting, your drawing, all that kind of stuff from top to bottom. We have a Fine Arts building that will be completed soon, and so through all of this process of looking at the arts we explored many different levels and things we thought kids might enjoy and what we heard from the kids is that they would say things like, ‘I wish we offered home economics, because they wanted to learn to cook and then we looked at Cleveland and Cleveland has some fantastic restaurants and awesome chefs just right here under our noses so we consulted with some local chefs and they were willing to offer tips and ideas and things like that and that’s kind of where it started,” he said. “So this is our first year with it, it’s been a really big hit and it’s something that I think will continue to grow.” 

About 40 students expressed interest in joining the program but enrollment had to be capped at 19 for safety reasons. McCain is one of the program’s instructors, along with Rivers Gainspoletti and Rebekkah Arant.

“I have a master in arts but I’m the high school ceramics teacher as well as the art teacher,” said Gainspoletti. “I do a wide variety of things but one of my specialties is pastries and bread and bakery items so when it comes to the culinary arts curriculum that’s where I really step in. Curt steps in more with meat and Rebekkah will step in and fill in for you know side dishes and things like that.”

“A couple of things that we’re trying to do is learn how to operate a kitchen, how to work in a team and how to serve others, so going beyond just the culinary arts part of it, it’s also giving back to the community, giving back to your peers and working together to accomplish a goal on a mission,” said McCain.

The students have had opportunities to work with some local chefs on events, including Dave Cruz and Cole Ellis. They also recently prepared a pregame meal for the junior high football team.

“What I really like about it is our kids made lasagnas from scratch,” said Gainspoletti. “They made dinner for our junior high football team a couple weeks ago so it’s students helping students. You just have to have an appreciation for, ‘Oh, I made this for you,’ and it feels good to serve that to somebody and have somebody say, ‘This is really good, thank you,’ and to feel that appreciation and learning to start serving others. It’s just something that everybody needs to have in their life it’s a great community skill to have.”

In addition to just learning how to cook, students in the program are learning many different culinary skills and enjoying fun lessons at the same time.

“We have visited a lot of the different restaurants around town, and we like to incorporate some history and culture in our lessons,” said Gainspoletti. “For example, when we made eclairs, we talked about where the choux pastry dough comes from — how it came from Italy and then it moved over to France. And we had fun playing French music while we cooked.”

Several fun classes are in the works for the next few weeks.

“In two weeks, we’re going to see some guys that do barbecue competitions to have them talk to the students and they also make barbecue seasonings. We’re going to look at their test kitchen and then stop by a local restaurant in Hernando and kind of visit with them. We also have a local cake decorator who’s going to come in and teach everybody how to make their own little Christmas cakes. She’s teaching them how to make the cake, how to frost it and the different types of frosting,” said Gainspoletti. “Next week we’re doing dressing and one of our ladies in the school cafeteria has the best dressing so she’s going to go over all the steps to make dressing with them.” 

In addition to a fun and unique learning experience, students are all being given the opportunity to receive their ServSafe certification, which will open doors for employment in the culinary world immediately.

“They can get a job as soon as they pass the test for their certification, and they will have an advantage because you have to have at least one person in every professional kitchen who is ServSafe certified,” said Gainspoletti.

“I think the most important thing is that everybody knows that we’re just trying to reach out to those kids who just can’t find exactly what they’re good and we have that unique program for them and we’re always open if anybody ever wants to have a specialty and they wanna come and teach it,” said McCain.

“I’m a sports guy, football guy, I played college football, but this arts space is very important to our town and to our school and kids need that outlet. We recognize the need for the arts,” he said. “I had people around me that helped pursue this idea for culinary arts. It’s unique to our school, not many high schools have it, and we want to offer something that kids are interested in and something that will give them an opportunity in the future. Maybe we’ve got the next big-time chef in this class or, if not that, these kids might learn a skill that helps them earn some money while they’re in college or maybe they decide to open a restaurant.”

Students completing the program have unlimited possibilities for their culinary futures.

“We really wanted to open up and offer different things that they might use later in their life because now they can go to college, they know how to cook for themselves, and a little bit more life skills that everybody needs, and then if they have kind of a taste for culinary life and, ‘I think I might want to be a pastry chef,’ or ‘I might want to be a Southern-style chef here in the Mississippi Delta,’ they’ve had exposure to that and they’re ready to take off once they get to college. I’m excited about us having a unique program that I think is very important because like I said not every kid is gonna be great history great science great at math but when you offer different art classes like culinary arts then you’re really stepping outside of that showing them here’s something you’re good at where you just gotta find what’s your cup of tea,” said Gainspoletti.

“Hopefully next year we can add a second class, and also get a kitchen here at the school. We use local kitchens around town. We’ll use churches or restaurants when we want to cook. It would be more convenient to be able to cook at the school,” she said.

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