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Culinary program helping students become smart cookies

September 18, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER
  • David Propst, program coordinator and chef instructor in the culinary arts program at James Rumsey Technical Institute near Hedgesville, W.Va., shows culinary student Kristina Hess the correct way to cut a potato during a knife-skills class.
By Trish Rudder,

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- There's more than one way to slice a potato, and the students in James Rumsey Technical Institute's culinary arts program are learning what they need to prepare them for a future job with the credentials to prove it.

David Propst, program coordinator and chef instructor, received his training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and has spent more than 12 years cooking -- the last one as a poissonnier, or fish cook, at Citronelle, a French restaurant in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Propst grew up in Harrison County, W.Va., and wanted to return to the state when he learned of the chef instructor position at James Rumsey.

"Teaching is a good niche for me," said Propst, who has been teaching the Culinary Arts program for more than a year.

Propst said the program was started by former chef Judy Stains, who retired in January 2009.

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"My goal was to refine, modernize and update the program," Propst said.

In June, the school received its accreditation credentials from the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which was a goal Propst wanted to achieve.

Vicki Jenkins, James Rumsey director and principal, and Michael Gantt, post-secondary assistant principal had goals to achieve ACF accreditation that "would make our program looked upon as credible and verified by the industry," Propst said.

Jenkins said Rumsey is accredited by the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges and students have to meet its standards, but the added ACF accreditation for the culinary arts program shows that the students have achieved an even higher academic and technical standard.

"They must meet the criteria of the accreditation program," she said and "it certainly will add credit and help them with their job search."

"Students don't have to attend a $50,000 program to have a quality education," Jenkins said. "A lot of people don't realize the jewel they have in their own backyard."

The program has 12 students this year and runs from early August to mid-June 2011. The future chefs will have course work in 21 areas during the 11-month program, Propst said.

"The students are here six hours a day, five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.," he said. Each day, they are schooled in two subjects.

Knife skills are being taught in the morning class, and the students learn about table service in the afternoon.

The students will move onto vegetable cookery and in late November, their early-morning class will start at 4 a.m. to learn breakfast cookery, Propst said.

Table service is an important part of the culinary program because it also is a hospitality program. Propst said future chefs need to know how a dining room is run as well as be proficient in the kitchen.

Propst said he teaches the most common types of table service, including American, which is a more casual approach.

But in keeping with the times, he teaches French table service, which is more prim and proper, and Russian table service, which is a buffet service where the server walks around with entrees and serves each diner using serving forks and spoons.

Propst said by learning both, the future chefs will understand that both the kitchen and the dining room are interdependent.

"It makes it run like a well-oiled machine," he said.

The students will participate in events where they will prepare the food and also serve the public.

For instance, when an event is scheduled at Rumsey such as a board of education Local School Improvement Council meeting, half of the students will prepare the lunch and the other half will serve, Propst said.

The students also perform research as part of their course work "to learn innovative techniques as well as the fundamentals," he said.

In the knife-skills class, students were learning the many ways to cut a potato, from julienne matchsticks to quenelle-shaped disks.

Student Kristina Hess said she was enjoying the program as she worked on her knife skills.

"We are learning all the classical cuts and different sizes," she said.

The students are graded every day on knife skills, Propst said. They are learning the language as well as how to perform the task.

Propst said everyone in the class is interviewed by him before they are accepted.

"I want to know why they are here," he said. "I don't look at this as a job. It's a craft that becomes a way of life for my students and myself."

Propst said after the 11-month program, his students will be able to "be matched to get the best fit" in the culinary world.

The cost of the course is $3,300 and he is reviewing applications for next year's program.

Propst said as the program's course instructor and the coordinator, "I want to motivate them to be the very best in what they do in the kitchen and in table service."

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