As part of a plan to establish a partnership between fledgling food fixers and a retirement community that serves three meals daily to some 600 diners, The Fountains at La Cholla recently invited a group of Marana High School culinary students to check out both front and back of the house at its two commercial kitchens.
There’s always something cooking because residents in independent living receive a breakfast and either a noon or evening meal at the restaurant dining locations while the assisted living program offers three meals a day.
Fountains Executive Director Fran Donnellan welcomed the group, noting the excitement of the day was mutual as their in-house culinary team enjoyed sharing their kitchen and dining room skills to the next generation of cooks who could possibly be involved in supplying senior living dining needs.
Students were “engaged and inquisitive” during the real-world, hands-on experience, according to Project Manager Rachel McCoy.
“The visit allowed students to see first-hand an extraordinary community where people thrive with dining as part of that experience,” she said. “The event launched a partnership between Marana High School Culinary students and our community to help those students learn essential dining service skills, some as possible interns that could ultimately result in part-time paid positions.”
Head chef Mike Beck, who has spent a quarter century in the food industry doing everything from scooping ice cream and making deli sandwiches to addressing gluten and sodium issues while preparing tenderloin and tuna steaks, told the youth that skills can be taught, “but passion can’t.”
“You have to have a passion for cooking because if you don’t like what you’re doing, it translates into your food, how it looks and how it tastes,” he said.
Rafael Rodriguez, assistant dining director, has worked together with Chef Beck for over a decade.
“We’re a good team with great communication between his kitchens and our serving staff,” Rodriguez said. “He makes the magic and we serve it with a smile.”
Following a tour of the two kitchens, the group was treated to lunch prepared in another spotless kitchen, gleaming with new equipment, pots, and pans. The teens were suitably impressed, with senior Destiny Reed excited enough to exclaim: “If I had a kitchen like this, I’d be making cordon bleu every day!”
Student Tara Duhon is in her fourth year of the program, and plans to attend a local community college to make a career out of cooking.
“If you love what you’re doing, it’s fun, not work,” she said. “We made calzones yesterday at school and just kneading the dough reduced my stress level and put me in my own little world.”
O’Donavan Monk is president of the Marana High School Culinary Arts Club. Monk said he became involved with the program because he wanted to learn how to cook, but the longer he stayed, the more he learned and the more involved he became “to the point where it’s been a career path for me.”
“I plan to make a life out of it by continuing my learning at a university hotel and restaurant manager program,” Monk said.
Sean Fredericks, a Culinary Arts instructor for 11 years, handles the third- and fourth-year pupils.
“A four-year curriculum offers a chance to slow down and focus, honing both skills in the kitchen and front-of-the-house protocol,” he said.
Teacher Denisse Enriquez gets the students from day one in her Introduction to Culinary Arts course.
“When they get here, they don’t even know how to wash dishes properly, so it’s exciting to watch them improve,” she said. “Some of these kids got stuck in our program because their first choice was closed, but nobody has transferred out. I go skipping to work every day because I love my job and these kids are so amazing. As one student told me, ‘I could actually live on my own now because I’m confident enough that I can cook for myself.’”