Tuesday, July 19, 2022
West Ferris culinary arts program gives students a taste of restaurant work
What began as an idea to recreate a commercially-made breakfast wrap has exploded into a weekly lunch program that serves 250 students and staff at West Ferris Secondary School in North Bay.
The West Ferris lunch program offers hospitality students the opportunity to get the full restaurant experience by working in every position from dishwasher to cook to server while delivering meals they planned and made from scratch.
Hospitality teacher Theresa Parise draws on her wealth of experience as a restaurant owner and operator to guide students through a practical introduction to the food industry.
“We began preparing lunches for the students participating in the lunchtime literacy workshops. The lunches were very popular and helped incentivize students to show up for some extra literacy support while being nourished at the same time,” Parise says. “One of my students suggested making a breakfast wrap. We brainstormed and planned the project.”
With the help of that student, who had restaurant experience, students began efficiently producing the breakfast wraps daily and from there began to explore the possibility of providing lunches to the entire student body. The class began a menu project which included market research using data collected from the entire school on their preferred types of lunch items. Once the data was collected students began to execute their ideas. Once the project took shape students were expected to create a menu consisting of one meal at a fixed price consisting of a main, a side and a dessert. They had to cost each piece of the menu, create a shopping list, and a plan for the creation and service of the meal. At the end of each week the class then decides on which meal to produce for the following week.
The hospitality classroom runs like a well-oiled machine with tasks being checked off each day of the week. The class needs to prepare for both pre-ordered lunches and cash orders at the counter.
“Our lunches are usually offered every Thursday. We build the menu by designating each day of the week to a component of the lunch,” Parise said. “Monday might be a baking day where students in Periods 1 and 2 make dough for buns for a sandwich.
The Period 3 class would shape, proof, and bake the bread. Tuesday and Wednesday would be prepping the rest of the components required. It is extremely busy; we serve an average of 200 students and 40-50 staff each week at $8 per lunch.”
Examples of the meals produced by the program include a chicken club wrap with tomato bisque soup and strawberry parfait, panzerotti with classic Caesar salad and tiramisu cheesecake trifles and nacho taco salad with Mexican rice and butter tart bars. Almost all of the menu items are made entirely from scratch.
Throughout the semester students rotate through all the positions of a commercial kitchen and restaurant. Duties are categorized as either “front of the house” or “back of the house.”
Front of the house positions include servers who prep and bag lunches, set up tables and hand out orders, expediters who run orders, bag food or work the cook line if necessary, and cashiers.
Back of the house jobs are prep cooks, line cooks, a kitchen caller, who places the orders with the cooks, and last but not least, the dishwashers.
Students are expected to participate in all front of house and back of house positions at least once before the end of the semester and they must be present to work their own lunch project if it is chosen.
“The atmosphere is a healthy, tense vibe where everyone knows we have a job to do and a goal to meet,” Parise says. “I raise the bar quite high here as some students don’t realize how rewarded and accomplished they can feel at the end of the day.
“Everyone has a different personality, and some students are just going to be more suited to these kinds of quick, high-performance jobs than others. This a good place for students to learn that about themselves,” Parise says.
The West Ferris lunch program is open to all students and Parise says many have found employment in the food service industry as a direct result of their experience there. Others have gone on to post-secondary education in culinary arts and hospitality.