culinary students gain real-world experience

By on October 16, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
Kaneland—Kaneland High School culinary students had a chance to experience work in the professional culinary world this summer before classes even began.

Senior Kelsey Lenhardt and about 20 of her classmates worked alongside employees of the Minnesota-based Prom Catering Company at the Solheim Cup golf tournament. The catering company invited the students to help out during the international golf event held at Rich Harvest Farm in Sugar Grove.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lenhardt said. “We were really busy. There was not much sitting time.”

Lenhardt said she did a lot of chopping. She prepared salads and wraps, sandwiches and soups.

“We opened a lot of cans of beans,” she said.

She said she learned the importance of timing—preparing food items so they would all be ready at the same time.

Fellow student Lexie Pniewski, whose future plans involve owning her own restaurant or bakery, said it was fun to work under real working chefs.

“It was harder (than at school), and a faster pace,” she said.

Although she and the other students cook during the culinary arts classes at Kaneland and make lunch each Thursday for the faculty at the school’s in-house restaurant, Cafe 302, Pniewski said this was a more professional setting.

Pniewski also worked in the Ping Pavilion, an upscale commercial tent at the Solheim Cup, where she restocked food and drinks, and waited on customers.

Kaneland culinary arts teacher Tara Wood, who began teaching at Kaneland this fall, worked with her new students at the Solheim Cup and again at the Western Open at Cog Hill, when they were invited back to work with the catering company.

Prom Catering’s staffing and personnel coordinator Krista Kretman said the company’s executive chef was impressed with the Kaneland students and their hard work and professionalism.

Wood agreed with Kretman’s assessment.

“I’ve never seen high school students work in such a professional manner,” she said. “They represented Kaneland extremely well.”

She said the experience was a good one for everyone. She was excited to meet her new students in a non-traditional setting and said the experience opened the students’ eyes to new opportunities.

Students in the high school’s culinary arts classes learn how to cook, prepare food and serve it, but they also learn about nutrition, how to run a business, and how to use math to convert recipes for larger or smaller groups.

“They learn the front end and behind the scenes,” Wood said.

Kretman said Prom Catering is a large-scale food operation, catering for 36 events a year. She said the experience was a good way for the culinary students to enhance their skills.

“There’s nothing like a hands-on experience at a golf event,” she said.

High school junior Paul Moring said he enjoyed working in the food tent, restocking the food and waiting on customers. However, another highlight of the experience took place during his break at the Western Open at Cog Hill.

He and a friend saw Tiger Woods tee off.

“We high-fived him,” Moring said.

Photo: Kaneland culinary students got a chance to work in the professional culinary world during two recent major golfing events. The students were praised for their professionalism. Photo by Susan O’Neill