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Top Chefs in the Making: SRVTC Culinary Program Cooking Up 
the Next Generation of Chefs


May 26, 2023

CLAREMONT - The ingredients to the success of the culinary program students at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center, are mixing together to create bright futures.

Culinary Arts Teacher Sarah Kainu helms the program, which aims to teach not just cooking skills, but life skills, as well.

“My goal for my students, first and foremost, is to learn basic life skills that they can carry with them,” she said. “I’d like to see students pursue the culinary field in college, but more than anything, I want them to have basic skills to carry through life.”

Kainu accomplishes the goal through a yearlong curriculum that incorporates different cooking disciplines, such as breakfast, soups, sauces and cakes.

“In culinary, the students come in September, and we go through the curriculum,” she said.

During the year, students typically work in teams at work stations that have a kitchen mixer, stovetop, and sink.

However, for their finals, which are currently in-process, they move to independent cooking.

“The finals the students have to do independently,” Kainu said. “We work based on a criteria curriculum, and they need to make something independently that they have cooked before.”

Students have use of the kitchen’s ingredients, but anything above and beyond they must bring from home. So far during finals, Kainu said classes have been treated to thai noodles as well as other tasty treats.

“The Culinary class provides a unique culinary experience in a commercial kitchen with a lot of hands-on cooking experiences,” said Sugar River Valley Technical Center Director Dr. Alex J Herzog. “ From prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning. A number of students have taken the experience we offer and turned it into careers in food service. With COVID behind us, we are able to open up the restaurant again to the public and students had strong work based learning experience in running a restaurant this year.”

After completing the program, and leaving high school, Kainu hopes to have students advance into the culinary industry.

“A student of mine is currently at Johnson & Wales University, and many have gone into the industry,” she said. “We try to build a base for the future and for life.”

She said that typically one or two students a year from her classes move into the culinary industry.

For some students, it’s an interest in working in the food industry. For others, it is a life skills development, meaning they learn how to cook for themselves, family and friends,” said Dr. Herzog of the future he hopes the program helps to provide. “ What we offer is an opportunity to gain strong experiences that the student can use to get an advantage in getting a job in the food industry. In addition, students must also earn the ServSafe Certification that is offered to every student in the Culinary class.”

Throughout the school year, the culinary department helps cook for many events, including the recent Career Fair, where they cooked up hundreds of hot dogs and sausages.

“There seems to be a resurgence of students interested in the Culinary program. We hope to continue to grow the enrollment and provide unique and varied experiences for the students,” said Dr. Herzog. “This year, we contracted with an outside Chef to educate the students on how to smoke brisket and chicken for one of the luncheons. Next year we hope to offer more open lunches to the public at low prices to deepen the learning experiences students get.” Or, Wednesday’s Sugar River Rotary Club Luncheon.

“We are thrilled that they make themselves available to host,” Rotarian Allyn Girard said. “It is a fantastic program.”

Rotarian Joella Merchant also spoke to the quality of the meals they receive.

“(The) kids do an excellent job,” she said. “I have never had a bad meal here. It is just like coming to a restaurant.”

Students in the program grow and thrive throughout the year into budding professional or at-home chefs, like Sugar River Valley Technical Center student Caleb Stevens.

“It means a lot working with Chef K,” he said. “She’s a nice teacher that I really respect. This is a good chance for kids to learn, get out and cook. I would recommend it to anyone.”