A group of Bibb County high school students are receiving hands-on culinary training thanks to a program at the Hutchings College and Career Academy.
Under the instruction of executive chef Stuart Hardy and chef Mark Robinson, 25 students in Hutchings’ culinary arts and hospitality and tourism pathways perform a variety of jobs pertaining to the food service industry at the Compass Rose Cafe.
“The students are involved in every step of the way,” Hardy said. “They cook and plate the food, they wash the dishes, they are the servers, they are the host, cashier, bathroom attendant, front house manager, sous chef — everything.”
The students rotate jobs so that each person gets a chance to experience all aspects of working at a restaurant.
Marah McCollum, 18, is a high school senior participating in the culinary program. Although she began the Hutchings program in 2017, she’s taken food-related classes, like food science, since middle school.
“I just think this class is much better since you get the on-the-job experience,” she said.
Some of the skills students are taught include becoming certified in food safety, learning knife skills and cooking different recipes.
The Compass Rose Cafe’s menu changes weekly, with dishes rarely served twice.
“A big reason as to why we rotate the menu is because the menu is how we teach the kids,” Hardy said. “For example, if we teach the kids how to skin and debone a salmon, we serve salmon. If we’re trying to teach them a sauce, we put that sauce on the menu. That’s why we don’t do cuisine over and over again like a normal restaurant.”
Hardy said that working in this type of environment helps prepare the students for the high demands of the culinary field.
“Working the kitchen requires perfection from you 100 percent of the time, and that level of stress is not for everybody. The restaurant lets the students see what it’s like to be in the kitchen and give them a realistic expectation of the food service industry,” he said.
The students are in a dual enrollment program, meaning they obtain both high school and college credit for their work.
McCollum said that her involvement with Compass Rose helped get her a job at Felicia’s Cake Factory, bakery in downtown Macon.
“Having this experience was really good for my interview,” she said. “Knowing how to work in a kitchen really appeals to a lot of businesses.”
Felicia Howard, owner of Felicia’s Cake Factory, said that Marah’s experiences at Compass Rose made her a good candidate to work in the food industry.
“Not only was Marah a Certified Servsafe Manager with previous register experience and a wide range of experience using culinary equipment, but she paid attention to details which is very important when creating custom treats,” Howard said. “I feel with more on the job training, she would do well in the field of culinary arts.”
Although this is her last year with the Compass Rose Cafe, McCollum plans to pursue a career in culinary arts after graduation.
“It really is a great program. I wouldn’t have learned as much as I have without it,” she said.
Customers are required to make reservations online at the Compass Rose Cafe’s website. It will be closed through the holidays and reopen on Friday, January 11 through May.