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Students get back to basics

BAKING — Peter Satiropoulis and Seth Baker, seniors in the culinary arts program at Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, prepare pumpkin cookies during their lab. (Contributed photo)

BLOOMINGDALE — COVID-19 has spurred many changes in the way students are learning, and those in the culinary arts program at Jefferson County Joint Vocational School are going back to basics.

Instructor Glenn Zalenski said since the JVS implemented hybrid learning and divided senior and junior classes, his groups have even more capabilities for hands-on training. In the past, he has worked with a total of 24 juniors and seniors who attended a mixture of labs and academic classes. Now, they are involved in daylong labs with remote academic learning on alternate days. That switch-up gives them even more time to learn recipes, practice cooking and baking skills and gain an understanding of working in the real world. Each class includes six students who have more abilities and space to learn their lessons.

“The students have handled the changes well. They are in lab all day and don’t have time constraints so we can do bigger projects. We’re going back to some of the basics — canning, making sausage and lots of things that are lost in the culinary arts,” Zalenski said. “I think they are really interested. They are getting more hands-on than they did before.”

He said students are catching up on lessons they were unable to do during the pandemic-based school shutdown last year.

“We are working backward in time because we lost school days. This year, they are trying to do things that are more difficult such as make pumpkin rolls,” he said.

The coronavirus also limited the program’s work with the public, namely operations of the Crestview Inn Restaurant and serving dine-in and takeout meals to the community. These days, the students are only feeding staff with the restaurant open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during regular school lunch hours.

Zalenski said the restaurant officially opened earlier this month and has been doing well.

“The staff has been very supportive,” he added. “The menu changes on a weekly basis since we’re trying to get classes to stay on the same page. We started with sandwiches items and will build up to full-sized dinners.”

So far, they have created chicken barbecue and chicken club sandwiches, soups and sides but are studying recipes in their textbooks to increase their offerings.

“(COVID) is something new and we are trying to come up with different ideas and ways to keep a restaurant alive,” he added.

Other effects include the annual contests to showcase skills they have acquired, since competitions have been held in Columbus and many events have gone virtual. That, too, poses a challenge for those in the program, but they remain hopeful.

“We’re still going to strive for competitions and I have culinary and restaurant teams put together, plus I have some interested in commercial baking,” Zalenski said. “We’re planning for the best.”

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