As the Taos High School culinary arts program launches its café, students from other Northern New Mexico schools are visiting Taos as they start their own culinary programs.
Students and staff from Dulce High School came Oct. 13 to observe Taos High’s program at work, as culinary arts instructor Benjie Apodaca gave them tours of the kitchen and café and explained aspects of the local program, such as opportunities for earning dual credits with UNM-Taos.
Ernie Vela, a counselor from Dulce, said he heard about Apodaca when he was inquiring about culinary programs in the region.
“We couldn’t have found a better place,” he said.
Lewis Martínez is the culinary instructor in Dulce; he said it is good for the students to see what it takes to operate a restaurant. Martínez said workers in a restaurant need to have dedication and should operate like pistons in an engine.
“This is our first year,” he said. “I think this is a very good experience for them.”
Martínez said local businesses and the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s tribal government have been supportive of the program. He said he hopes to expand it, eventually doing evening classes for community members.
Martínez said he is still trying to accumulate equipment for the program and was impressed with the Taos High program’s new commercial kitchen, paid for by voter-approved bond funds. He said his students have been learning lessons about sanitation, food storage, kitchen equipment and knife skills, as well as a variety of foods, preparation techniques and terms.
“We do quizzes every Friday,” he said.
Vela said Dulce High School issued student surveys, which showed that students overwhelmingly wanted the school to offer a culinary arts program.
“Student demand drives the program,” he said. “Everybody wanted to take it.”
The visiting students were all seniors, some of whom intended to pursue careers in the culinary arts, and others who just wanted to become better cooks for themselves. Chance Vicenti said he decided to enroll because it was “something different” from his typical classes. Narelle Quintana said Dulce High doesn’t offer many electives, and culinary arts was more appealing to her than auto shop or carpentry.
“We didn’t have a lot of electives,” Vela said. “It took off.”
Dionicia Talamante said she has been watching the show “Cake Boss,” which inspired her to learn more about culinary arts.
“I want to become a wedding cake designer,” she said.
Martínez said one of the most important lessons his students took away from their visit to Taos High School was the importance of teamwork in the kitchen and in the restaurant business in general.
Taos High culinary arts instructor Mary Spears said students and staff from Peñasco are also planning a visit to observe Taos’ program.
The Taos High culinary arts program has also begun its “Education at Work Café” on campus. The café will be open to the public beginning on Thursdays, eventually opening more often.
A group of school employees gathered in the café Oct. 13 to try offerings including mixed greens ($5), a traditional Caesar salad ($4.50), green chile corn chowder ($3.50), a green chile chicken sandwich ($6), grilled pork loin ($7) and a classic burger ($6). Desserts included hazelnut chocolate mousse, flan with pinot nougat and chocolate cake (all $3). Diners can also drink coffee, iced tea, cappuccino, juice, sodas or water.
Patrons can watch the students work in the kitchen through large windows, and the funds raised by selling meals will go toward running the culinary program, including preparing Taos High culinary teams for and sending them to competitions. Taos High Principal Rodney Litke said it costs about $15,000 to send a team to nationals, and activities such as catering and operating the café make such trips possible.