The culinary arts class at Haines High School doesn’t just teach students how to cook. It sells dozens of lunches to the community nearly every week. The class has become one of the most popular at the school, and the number of people who order their lunches has grown from 11 to more than 100.
“So the important thing about this is that the cheese melts on it’s own accord,” Lily Boron directed her student stirring cheese sauce on a recent Thursday.
“We’re gonna serve in seven minutes,” she said as the students cut apple cake, steamed broccoli and stirred applesauce.
This is the last lunch they’ll make this year. Senior Paige Winge describes the meal.
“Pork with applesauce, rice, apple cake and cheese with broccoli, or broccoli with cheese I mean.”
The culinary arts class is an elective that stuck around after the school’s home economics program diminished. Students learn about nutrition, cooking and locally sourced food. And almost every Thursday, they put what they learn into practice – making food from a menu Boron creates.
As it get closer to 11:30, the students start scooping the pork, broccoli and cake into more than 100 containers. Victoria Moore is waiting outside the cooking classroom to pick up her lunch.
“It’s just fantastic. And healthy,” she said.
Moore has been ordering the $6 lunches for a couple years.
“Probably the halibut sticks out, everything they’ve done with the halibut has just been wonderful,” she said.
Boron says the money they earn from this helps pay for ingredients. That’s the reason she decided to make selling lunches part of the cooking class. Boron remembers when they first started a few years ago.
“The first class was the year that Dawson [Construction] was building the addition on the school,” Boron said. “So our first set of customers were those 11 guys that were working on the other side of the plastic barrier.”
Now they’re averaging 100 to 120 customers a week.
“They’re not saying “Oh this is such a cute class, look at the kids working,” They go, “ I came here, I ordered ten lunches and I’m ready to go, here’s my money,” So they take us seriously,” Boron said.
“They’re sometimes really surprised if they haven’t had the lunches before,” said student Jennie Humphrey. “Like my parents were like, ‘Wow you guys made this stuff?'”
About 20 years ago, Boron managed Chilkat Restaurant Bakery. Here, she manages a sort of student-run restaurant. But the first priority is education, not making money.
“The reality is this a cooking class first, and it’s a business second,” Boron said. “And I never want to feel bad if the cake is slightly off, or the cookie is slightly small. I want to feel great because we’re teaching kids a skill that’s gonna last for a long time.”
There have been meals that don’t go so well. Like the beef fajitas. They were expensive and it was too time-consuming to hand-roll 200 tortillas. That’s why each Friday the students evaluate how the meal turned out and what they could improve.
Boron says the class gives students employability skills. It also expands their cooking ability.
Senior Zach Lambert says, before this class, his after-school dinners came out of a can or a box – like chili or ramen.
“But now, like I’ve made the blackened halibut quite a few times — that we’ve made in this class, like with the seasoning and bunch of spices in it,” Lambert said. “And, like, I never would’ve made that before — taken the time to go and prepare all that.”
Boron says a handful of her cooking students have gone into culinary or nutrition fields.
“And then the other thing that warms my heart is that I’ll get an email from a kid who’s been in college three years and they’ll say “Ms. Boron, I’m making dinner for my friends and I’ve lost my recipe for cheesecake, can you send it to me? Or how do you make that salsa again?” And you know, it’s a life skill,” Boron said.
The class teaches valuable skills, but it’s also a lot of work. Boron says, every year she questions whether she wants to teach it again.
“And then I’ll see some little elementary kid come tottering up saying, “When I get to high school, I’m gonna take you’re cooking class!” So who knows how long it’ll last, but I’m gonna enjoy it as long as it does.”