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Cooking up real-life solutions | Assessment test students’ culinary skills

March 10, 2014 - 12:05am

It had all the ingredients of a hit reality TV cooking competition, but it was an assessment — one that allowed 24 students from six high schools to demonstrate what they have learned by completing tasks assigned and judged by culinary experts.

Held Friday and Saturday at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, the inaugural Big Island Culinary Performance-Based Assessment was an exciting showing of how students put their Career &Technical Education (CTE) skills to use while solving a real-world problem. It was also an opportunity for participants to interact with those in related fields and get invaluable feedback, as well as qualify for a CTE Honors Designation, said Sherilyn Lau, educational specialist at the state Department of Education’s Curriculum &Instruction Branch.

The event began with an overview about KTA Super Stores. Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi started the company in 1916, when it was a modest 500-square-foot grocery and dry good store. Over the past century, KTA has grown to a six-store chain providing quality perishables and prepared food. KTA wants to offer new prepackaged food items while also fulfilling its philosophy of utilizing “locally produced and manufactured goods.” It believes in “supporting Hawaii Island companies” because it “generates jobs, supports the local economy and helps improve this special place.”

Students, working in three- or two-member teams, were tasked with creating a conceptual menu for a new prepackaged food item, which had to differ from what was currently offered by other local merchants, businesses and restaurants. They were specifically asked to reinvent or recreate a local dish with as many locally grown ingredients as possible. It also had to be appealing to a wide range of consumers. Those making bentos were required to have a starch, cooked vegetable and protein.

Students developed the menu, wrote an original recipe, shopped for ingredients, prepared food, presented the meal to a panel of tasting judges, proposed a profitable selling price for their product, and did a 20-minute formal food presentation. In the end, KTA representatives chose a recipe to feature in its stores.

While students were assessed, their teachers participated in a webinar about KP Education Systems, took a tour of Cocoa Outlet in Kainaliu, and learned new skills while cooking with Outrageous Gourmet chef Katherine Louie.

Prior to participating in this event, students submitted a research paper and completed an online written exam. At the end of the third quarter, once grades are submitted and a GPA of 3.0 or higher is confirmed, students will find out if they earned the honor, Lau said. That distinction serves as proof of their diligence, drive and fulfillment of certain standards. Students may also gain a competitive edge because the honor helps them stand out to future employers or universities, Lau added.

Those who do not pass can always try again in April at the State Performance-Based Assessment on Oahu, where more than a dozen CTE programs are featured. CTE offers six career pathway frameworks: Arts and Communication, Business, Industrial and Engineering Technology, Health Services, Natural Resources, and Public and Human Services. The purpose of the associated pathway programs is to prepare students for jobs upon graduation or progression into post-secondary education. Preparedness includes having high academic and thinking skills, and exemplifying other qualities identified in the state standards, Lau said.

According to the DOE, nearly 28,000 students were enrolled in CTE programs during the 2011-12 school year, with more than 2,600 seniors graduating with completed coursework. Lau said DOE has plans to track how many students go into a related career or further their education.

Typically because of high traveling costs, participation by neighbor island students in the state event has been minimal. This first-ever, district-level event in Kailua-Kona was held in part to increase Big Island participation. It was made possible thanks to funding from the Honolulu CTE Office and Patti Kimball, Hawaii Community College-West Hawaii chef instructor, who spearheaded the effort.

Also key were industry leaders and community members advising and helping. Their advice during the assessment helps ensure curriculum remains relevant to industry needs, Lau said. She also added it’s a win-win situation for businesses. Not only is it helping to shape the people they hope to hire one day, they also get fresh ideas, several of which have been implemented, such as two unique commercial jingles for Meadow Gold’s juice drinks.

Honokaa High senior Elijah Fernandez described the assessment as the closest thing to being on the cooking television series “Chopped.” He and his teammates — juniors Ethan McArdle and Ashlynn Kaimakini — prepared a spicy teriyaki beef salad wrap. They were surprised when finishing with 15 spare minutes, which gave them a lot of time to clean up their work stations and watch other teams rush around.

McArdle thinks this assessment is important because students learn hands-on and technical skills, as well as have the chance to demonstrate their proficiency, grow, build confidence and take advice from industry experts. He said the entire program really helps students figure out what they want to do by allowing them to explore what a career in the industry is like.

For Kealakehe High seniors Amanda Dodson, Yvanna Menendez and Kiana Farm, the quick shopping and cooking under pressure part was easy. They participate in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, an organization that provides personal growth, leadership development and career preparation opportunities. Because of this involvement, they often partake in competitions, as well as participate in catering events.

This team said the most nerve-wrecking part Friday was watching the “poker face” judges taste their bento, which consisted of a grilled asparagus, teriyaki beef with pineapple and a sticky fried rice with crispy shallots, fish oil and cilantro. They were relieved upon hearing mostly positive and encouraging feedback.

The trio said they are hopeful about their future because of CTE and the pathway chosen, along with the numerous learning opportunities embraced and tremendous support received. Dodson wants to own a catering business, Menendez plans to build upon her culinary training in college, and Farm hopes to combine her passion for food and health into a related career.