BERWYN – A new culinary arts lab equipped with state-of-the-art, industry-standard equipment at Morton West High School in Berwyn is expected to increase interest in the school's culinary curriculum and give students a leg up as they apply for culinary school and jobs in the restaurant industry, district and school administrators said.
Morton West High School hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 4 attended by Steven Jackson, the chef for the Chicago Bulls, to celebrate the lab's official debut.
The new lab features a 24-student classroom capacity, commercial-grade equipment, including a pizza oven, multi-range gas burners and an espresso machine, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing improvements.
Principal Josh McMahon said construction on the new lab, formerly the school's home economics classrooms and several storage areas, began in March, and it was completed in June. The result is a far cry from the outdated stoves and ovens previously used by students, he said. A new culinary arts lab also was installed at Morton East High School.
As a result of the district's investment in commercial-grade equipment at both high schools, culinary industry professionals, like Jackson, are much more interested in visiting the schools, said Eric Mastey, director of J. Sterling Morton High School District 201's Career and Technical Education program.
"This will not only bolster the amount of students who want to enroll in the course, but what it has already started doing is bringing in culinary institutes and professionals and executive chefs to the labs and working with our students because they see the equipment we have and upgrades that have been made," he said.
McMahon said the labs at both schools were budgeted for and included as part of the district's five-year plan.
The investment is a response to the needs of the district's student body, Mastey said.
"The majority of our students may not have the financial opportunity to go to a four-year university," he said.
The new culinary lab, and the district's Career and Technical Education program as a whole, provides these students with a skill set they can use to their advantage while looking for a job after high school or if they plan to apply to a specialized post-secondary school, Mastey said.
The new facility also has prompted a shift in curriculum, Morton West culinary arts instructor Lindsay Strobel said. The district began using the National Restaurant Association's ProStart curriculum for the first time at the start of this school year, she said.
In addition to new textbooks and lesson plans, students also will have the opportunity to run their own restaurant, creating a three-course menu and serving faculty and administrators once a month at each high school, Strobel said.
The monthly restaurant begins at Morton East later this month and at Morton West in January, Mastey said.
Students with restaurant experience, even if it's only in a classroom setting, can say to potential employers that they've worked as servers, line cooks and dishwashers, Strobel said.
"If I was managing a restaurant and I had two teenage students applying for one position, I'd definitely choose the one with experience in culinary arts," she said.