SAN BENITO — From sanitation and safety procedures to cooking and baking savory treats, a newly created program is enabling several students to gain experience in the kitchen and learn a variety of food service operations.

At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, San Benito High School launched its Culinary Arts Program. The district has never had a program like this before.

The program is held in a newly constructed classroom and kitchen and offers three courses — Introduction to Culinary Arts, Culinary Arts and Practicum in Culinary Arts.

The program’s Intro to Culinary Arts students were cooking up a storm and showcasing their skills this month while making a couple hundred burgers for a staff end of the year appreciation lunch.

“It was nice to see them actually getting into the kitchen cooking and making things here and there,” Career and Technical Education Director Fernando Rosa said. “That was exciting for them.”

According to Rosa, the program has been getting a lot of interest and has about 75 to 100 participating students.

Rosa said Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Hipolito Garcia is working well with the students.

“This is my first year teaching at the high school level,” Garcia said. “It’s been a great experience teaching the basics with sanitation and safety, but the things that I most enjoy are watching them learn how things are made and seeing them tasting and enjoying it.”

Garcia has been working in the culinary arts industry for 15 years.

“I’ve had management positions where I was managing a kitchen where we fed 2,000 meals during breakfast, lunch and dinner, so that was about 6,000 meals a day every day of the year,” Garcia said. “That was quite some work, especially if you’re the one running it and responsible for everything.”

At left, Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Hipolito Garcia teaches a student how to knead dough to make a pizza. (Courtesy photo: San Benito CISD)

Garcia said he wants his students to leave the program being ready for the culinary arts industry, if they decide to pursue that career.

“They’ll learn how to make stock soup, sauces, cook different meats, desserts and everything in general if they want to open a business,” he said. “I want to give them those skills that they can use for life.”

According to Rosa, exposing students to a variety of professions, such as culinary arts, is a great way to help them get closer to finding the career they want to pursue after high school.

“When I went to school, we had no clue what we wanted to do,” he said. “We had to go out there and it was kind of a hit or a miss, but now the advantage of having career technical education within all of the school districts is that it provides the students an opportunity to experience some of those things.”

Rosa added that through this opportunity, students are able to take a couple of classes in a certain area and see if they like it before making a huge expense in college just to find out that they didn’t like the profession they selected.

According to Rosa, students in the Culinary Arts Program will be working on earning certifications that will help them step right into a job in that profession after graduating high school.

Rosa said he’s excited to see what the future holds for the program’s first cohort of students as they move on to their next level courses.

Currently, Rosa and Garcia are making preparations for a summer camp that will be held in July for the program’s students.

“This is basically for that group of students that didn’t get a chance to get any hands-on (experience) during the year because they stayed home and were doing it virtually,” Rosa said. “We invited them to come in to have two weeks of just hands-on learning in the kitchen. That way they can go into the next class in the fall with a little bit of hands-on kitchen experience.”