Students at West Orange High School with a passion for cooking or an interest in becoming a chef will have a new opportunity come fall.
Orange County Public Schools is launching the dual-enrollment culinary arts program on the WOHS campus. It has been at Orange Technical College - Westside Campus for more than a decade but was limited to about 35 students, who were required to have three open periods together to be able to switch campuses.
Colton Nessmith, culinary department chairman and postsecondary chef instructor for 11 years at Westside, is excited to make the transition to West Orange.
Several WOHS students are in the program but have had to travel to the Westside campus for classes.
West Orange Principal Matt Turner is eager to see his students benefit from this class being moved to the school.
“I’m a huge fan of cooking, and I think it just engages kids and it’s something they can use their whole life,” Turner said. “Any kids who may not be invested in school — it gives them something to get engaged in. It’s such a great program. … “Our goal is to give students a varied selection so we can engage more students.
“(Nessmith’s) been doing this for 10 years; he’s a Disney chef,” he said. “Not only are we adding culinary, but we’re getting the best around. Adding a new program is always scary but finding the right teacher … is always a winner.”
Nessmith will teach in a classroom currently occupied by a teacher who is retiring in the spring. The room originally was designed for culinary arts when the school was built in 2008; it will need a few modifications before the program starts.
Turner said the classroom is designed for four or five stoves, sinks and refrigerators with small alcoves for cooking. Several freezers and other kitchen items, such as bowls, mixers and spatulas, will be purchased.
“We’re going to be spending some money to make sure the equipment is upgraded,” he said. “It’s a financial commitment on our end but one we really wanted to go for because it’s an elective kids will love.”
WOHS provides the teacher’s salary and the equipment, and Westside will provide the food.
The program is offered to ninth- through 12th-graders, although the program is designed to be taught over three years. Seniors will get entry-level instruction, and juniors will be required to double up one year. Students who complete the program will receive industry certification that will benefit them when searching for a job in the field.
Hospitality is the umbrella for the entire program, and within it are topics such as food and beverage, transportation, hotels and lodging, and sanitation, Nessmith said. Then students learn their way around the kitchen with stocks and soups; salads and sandwiches; starches and grains; quantity foods; meat, poultry and seafood; and sauces.
To pass, students must identify, explain or demonstrate various kitchen procedures and skills, as well as relevant commercial food service knowledge. Upon completion of the program, students will be prepared for entry-level positions, such as steward, prep cook, pantry cook, fry cook, banquet cook, retail and cafeteria line cook.
The program will follow a curriculum written by Nessmith — with feedback from big companies such as SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World and Hilton Hotels & Resorts — and developed by the National Restaurant Association.
The course is designed for a postsecondary level class and has to be modified to fit the high school bell schedule. Nessmith said 90 minutes of daily instruction is being restructured to be taught in less than an hour.
“A yeast bread (such as) focaccia might take three to six hours to do,” he said. “We break it down to just pretzels so we can break it down into days. Instead of hours we have to think days. Timing is the biggest thing.”
Nessmith has been a culinary instructor at Westside for 11 years.
Prior to working there, Nessmith held positions at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Polynesian Resort, The Venetian Room at Caribe Royal Resort, and Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian Resort — all at Walt Disney World.
The chef graduated from a similar high school program taught by a home economics teacher.
“The only reason I went to college at the level I did was because of the program in high school,” he said. “It’s come full circle for me.
“I would like for students to get inspired and excited about food and really find out how they can use it throughout their everyday life,” Nessmith said. “I would like to get students in food and beverage positions, from dishwasher all the way up to the top to restaurant manager or chef or sous chef.”