By B.C. Manion
Watch out Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef, you may have some new competitors heading your way.
Pasco County public schools will be opening a new certified Culinary of the Arts Academy next school year.
A groundbreaking on the new $6 million facility is scheduled to happen at 9 a.m. Oct. 6 at Land O’ Lakes High School, 20325 Gator Lane.
The 18,000-square-foot center includes three kitchens; a 60-seat and a theater-style classroom with a demonstration station; and commercial kitchen equipment. It also has video technology that feeds throughout the center, so cooking demonstrations can be shown on flat screen TVs throughout the building.
The goal is to prepare culinary students to enter the workforce seamlessly, to continue their education, or both, said Rob Aguis, director of Community, Career and Technical Education for Pasco County public schools.
When students finish the program, they’ll be ready to work in all sorts of kitchens, ranging from neighborhood bistros to high-end restaurants, he said.
They’ll also have a chance to earn various culinary industry certifications, potentially saving themselves substantial sums of money.
The center’s largest kitchen is designed for beginning students. A smaller, more specialized kitchen is intended for more advanced students. A third kitchen – equipped with special temperature controls and marble, wood and stainless steel counters – is intended for training bakers and pastry chefs.
The new academy comes at a time when “the attention on the culinary industry has grown tremendously,” Aguis said. It also responds to a desire by students, he added, noting the high school surveyed students and found that courses in culinary arts are in demand.
The academy is the result of support from Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, as well as members of the Pasco County School Board and business members of the Pasco Education Foundation, Aguis said.
The academy will partner with the school district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, which will serve café-style lunches to staff, visitors and the community.
It also will collaborate with the high school’s agriculture program, Aguis said. That partnership will boost students’ understanding of the importance of food quality. It also will give them a chance to gain a better appreciation of the connection between the planting of seeds, the cultivation of crops and the putting of food on the table.
“This has been a team approach right from the start,” Aguis said, noting that many district departments and personnel have helped in planning the project. The project’s architect, Williamson Dacar Associates and its contractor, Creative Contractors, Inc., both of Clearwater, also have been very instrumental, he said.
The academy plans to recruit partners in the culinary community, and has already lined up postsecondary partners that include The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Tampa, and Johnson and Wales University.
The academy will be a place where students will have a variety of learning opportunities, both by observing instructors while they demonstrate and explain cooking techniques, and by getting hands-on experience, Aguis said.