While workers rush around tending to last-minute details, Principal Ric Mellin is confident the new $5 million Academy of Culinary Arts will be ready for students when they return to classes Aug. 22.
“(It’s) 97 percent done and still on track” to open on time, Mellin said last week.
So far, the academy has had nearly 70 youth sign up to be “pure academy” students as freshmen. Another 100 or so students are expected to also use the new facility for advanced culinary classes and food and nutrition courses.
Mellin expects the numbers to grow as word about the program continues to spread.
The institute is a freestanding building constructed in front of Land O’ Lakes High School. It features four professional kitchens, including a bakery and teaching kitchen, and a dining room. Inside the building, students will learn hands-on all aspects of the food service industry.
Designed to offer students cutting-edge instruction, the institute has been outfitted with custom equipment and the latest technological devices. Instructors’ lessons will be recorded on camera, and students will be able to view them on flat-screen televisions placed throughout the building. New students will also be able to watch advanced students as they prepare dishes and work together to complete assignments. There’s even a classroom with stadium seating that enables students to better see what their instructor does to craft different dishes.
Many of the lessons will demand that students work in collaboration with each other.
“(In) this industry, it’s essential,” Mellin said. “You have to know how to work with other people.”
The academy’s dining room will eventually be opened up to the public for rental with catering as an option. Mellin envisions community and business groups holding banquets here as students prepare and serve the meals. For now, the school district’s Lakeside Café will use the space to provide meals to employees during working hours.
The culinary institute is the culmination of years of work on the part of the Pasco County school district and officials at Land O’ Lakes High School. The district has been working to include academies at all of its high schools. Some schools offer banking, health-related or technical training programs that lead to industry certifications.
When the time came to decide what kind of academy Land O’ Lakes High would offer, Mellin turned to students and parents for input.
"(We) surveyed parents and students, and (they) were very interested in the culinary arts and the service industry," Mellin said.
This survey led to talks, which led to brainstorming, which led to the development of custom plans and eventual construction.
Students enrolled in the culinary program will have the chance to learn all aspects of the food service industry. From cooking and baking to receiving goods and serving customers who dine at the in-house restaurant to even making ice sculptures, they'll get a hands-on education, Mellin said. Potential certifications students will be able to earn include the ServSafe Food Safety five-year certification, a variety of American Culinary Federation certifications and more.
Institute students may also use their training to open doors for higher educational opportunities.
"We're trying to give these kids a leg up," he said. "It (the academy) sets them above other students who are choosing to go into this professionally."
For more information about the institute, contact Land O’ Lakes High School at 813-794-9400.