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Training the Chefs of Tomorrow at Colonel’s Cupboard

Monday, October 26, 2015  
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Working in a commercial kitchen for the first time, Oscar Fajardo believed doing things quicker was more productive, including chopping and dicing vegetables. His naiveté with a knife led to a near-disaster: He cut himself pretty badly.

The experience quickly taught him a lesson.

“It’s not about being fast, it’s about doing things precisely and correctly,” he said.

The teen exudes a confidence that belies his high school student status. Fajardo, 18, is a culinary arts student in the Career and Technology Magnet at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. He and dozens of other students manage Colonel’s Cupboard, a student-run restaurant that allows students to explore the culinary industry by creating a menu, cooking and serving customers

Students learn about classical food preparation, current trends in the food and hospitality industry, culinary math skills, restaurant management and customer service.

The experience can also jump-start a student’s career as he or she participates in ProStart, a two-year national program that helps train today’s talent for the restaurant and food service leaders of tomorrow. Sponsored by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, the program reaches as many as 95,000 students a year in 1,700 schools.

Students who complete the full program are eligible to earn the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement and scholarships to colleges with culinary arts programs — advancing them into a professional kitchen.

Colonel’s Cupboard is similar to other high school student-managed restaurants in Indiana. From the dining room view, it’s fairly traditional and complete with flower arrangements atop linen-covered tables. But this restaurant on the Tech campus is situated in a brick 1870 Italianate house known as the West Residence. Soft music plays in the background and masks the busy din sometimes overheard from the kitchen.

“Are your orders up?” Chef India King called out to students in the kitchen preparing the fried fish entrée this particular day. King supervised the students, who also provide catering and an on-campus delivery service during the school year.

Not every student will pursue a culinary arts career. And that’s OK, King said.

“Not all of our students are going to college, but what this program does do is help them socially. It helps them take instruction and use good judgment,” said King, who’s been part of the program for 11 years. “They’re in real-life practical situations either working the front of the house (wait staff) or the back (kitchen).”

This gem of a restaurant on the near eastside of Indianapolis also is open to the public. Fellow Tech students are allowed to eat at Colonel’s Cupboard with permission or if accompanied by an adult. Salads, sandwiches and soups are on the menu, which also has a daily feature. Dessert is an option, as is freshly squeezed lemonade.

Fajardo, who is a ProStart Bronze Medal winner, said he particularly likes baking desserts, such as Southern Chess Pie, his personal favorite. His hollandaise sauce, he admits, needs more work. “There’s a science to cooking. It’s not as easy as people think. If your measurements are off, that can kill your recipe,” he said. He wants to continue his culinary arts and hospitality studies at Ivy Tech Community College next fall, become a chef and eventually travel to Europe “to see how they cook over there,” he said.

“I know there’s still so much more I need to learn.”

Check out these other student-run restaurants in Central Indiana:

·         Light Café operated by the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township students from the J. Everett Light Career Center

·         Bernie’s Place operated by the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township students who attend McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology

·         Threshold Restaurant operated by the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township students who attend Walker Career Center

·         To the Nines, which serves eight school corporations and nine high schools whose students attend Central Nine Career Center in Johnson County

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