Mann (far left) works with students at Kodiak High School. Via Kodiak Island Borough District
Kodiak High School’s culinary arts program can be everything from a one-year elective to a four-year course that prepares its students for the food industry. That’s a lot of budding talent. Culinary arts teacher, Chef Samantha Mann, says you may soon get to taste the result of the students’ hard work.
“What we’d like to do with the more advanced students is, as their second semester project, open an actual restaurant using the school as the facilities and let them design the entire restaurant from start to finish. As in making the menu, figuring out how much each recipe costs, preparing each dish.”
She says the project would give students the chance to experience every part of the restaurant, from working on the service side to preparing the menu. Mann is well-versed in the ways of the business, especially from the kitchen side. She worked at a Peruvian restaurant in Portland she calls one of the busiest and most popular places to eat in the city. She says it was fun, but chaotic.
“I was working the night shift in the pastry department, so I was plating desserts, I was prepping desserts for the next day, and 12 hours is a really long time to work. And it’s a physically demanding job. The restaurant was in an old warehouse, so it was three floors, so constantly you’re running up and down the stairs. There’s hot ovens. There’s freezers. There’s noise and tons of people.”
Mann says she learned a lot, but the pace could be exhausting. She later moved to Juneau and worked at a hotel downtown.
“And I was making over their pastry program, kinda redoing it so that their pastries would come in-house instead of being ordered and, a few months into that job, Stewart McDonald, superintendent, comes into the Baranof looking for me and asks if I would perhaps be interested in a job in Kodiak.”
And, as you can guess, she was.
Mann says working at the high school is busy, but not hectic, and it gives her the opportunity to be more creative. It helps having a shiny new kitchen to cook in.
She says she and her students gained access to the kitchen in the new high school wing a couple of months ago. Previously, they’d been in the wielding shop, where they took advantage of the lack of cooking appliances by doing the year’s bookwork. She says along with steam boxes and equipment to make pasta, the kitchen also a gas stove, which is useful for classes.
“A lot of my students have never cooked with gas. They’ve used only electric stoves, and gas is just so much more efficient in keeping a steady heat. There’s not the lag in time to heat up and the lag in time to cool down, so watching those kids who are good cooks, but a little intimidated by gas, and then they get to use it and play around with it and see the differences.”
You may soon find yourself sitting down at a table with a plate full of food from that kitchen.
Mann says her restaurant concept is a pet project and still in the brainstorming stage. However, the idea has gotten support from members of the high school community like the superintendent, and a culinary arts program restaurant may be well on its way to becoming the new spot in town.