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So You Want to Be a Chef?

So You Want to Be a Chef?

This article first appeared on South County Times and was written on March 18, 2011. You can view the original article here. The article has been updated by South Tech staff to include current names and titles.

Cooks in chef’s hats and spotless white coats diligently man their work stations in the kitchen at South Technical High School in Sunset Hills. One group slices and dices; another crafts pretty white roses from frosting. Brittany Brookins creates pastries as Chef Melissa Manness looks on. She has been accepted into the Culinary Institute of America.

These chefs-to-be are students in South Tech’s Culinary Arts program. South Tech’s culinary arts program, led by Chefs Melissa Manness and David Bass, is one of more than 30 career-oriented education programs offered at the school.

This program is a great opportunity for kids to find out if this is a career they want to pursue,” said Program Advisory Board Chair Diane Stubblefield. “They receive ServSafe (food safety) certification and they learn a lot, not only on the cooking end but the baking end.

Career Focused

South Technical High School helps train students for specific careers, like court reporting and automotive technology. The programs give students practical experience and a considerable leg up when joining the work force or moving on to college.

The school accepts students from every school district in St. Louis County. Programs are offered to juniors and seniors in place of regular elective classes like band or drama.

Instead of going down the hall for their electives, students at high schools like Lindbergh and Kirkwood head to the South Tech campus on West Watson Road in either the morning or the afternoon. Bus transportation is provided for those who don’t wish to drive.

One of the biggest misconceptions about South Tech is that its programs are meant for students who aren’t succeeding at their home high schools, said Manness. In fact, the opposite is true.

They have to have decent attendance and grades because we’re one of the more popular programs,” she said. “We’re slowly becoming more in demand, with people wanting to learn a skilled trade. We’ll take capacity in the culinary arts program, which is 60 students.

Manness said all the teachers in her program have real-world experience.

I was a hiring manager at all the different restaurants I worked for, so I can tell you how to be successful, she said. That includes knowing which vegetable is which; how to identify cooking utensils; and learning how to put things back where they belong.

Some of the students cook at home with grandma or mom, or maybe mom or dad’s a cook,” said Bass, who worked for Ameristar Casinos and who was also the research and development chef for Qdoba. “At the very least you can learn to cook for yourself.

Culinary Success

Two of the many outstanding students in South Tech’s culinary arts program are Brittany Brookins and David Dahle, both seniors at Lindbergh High School. They are among 12 students who will be heading to state at the end of March.

Brookins, an aspiring pastry chef, has an armful of medals acquired over the past two years in district and state competitions. She was recently accepted into the Culinary Institute of America.

“I’ve been baking since I was little,” she said. “I wore out five Easy-Bake Ovens. I also watch a lot of Martha Stewart. I thought it would be a great experience to be here and work in a real kitchen.”

The upcoming state competition, like the culinary arts program at South Tech, focuses on real-world skills. In addition to cooking and baking competitions, some students will compete in leadership contests that assess talents like job interview skills.

“I will be competing in knife cutting, like julienne, small dice, large dice,” said Dahle. “I also have to cook a four-course meal. I have to cut a chicken into eight pieces, then turn it into chicken stock. I have to do a pan-seared chicken; another course is poached shrimp. I also have to do a scent test. I have to identify 10 spices blindfolded.”

Preparing for the Future

Kirkwood High School (KHS) senior Brody Kampschroeder takes his core classes at KHS in the morning, then heads over to South Tech for the afternoon.

“I’m always doing culinary stuff at home, so my mom suggested it,” he said. “I get to interact with people I’d never get to meet otherwise.”

Like many of his fellow students, Kampschroeder wants to study in the culinary arts program at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park after high school graduation.

“I’ve heard their program is just as good as L’Ecole Culinaire, only cheaper,” he said.

Dahle also has plans to attend Forest Park, and said he is grateful for the head start South Tech has given him.

Only two or three students out of our program have not gone on to post-secondary education,” said Manness. “We have articulating credits at Forest Park, so they get a jump on college.

There is also a hands-on program for younger students that can help them determine if South Tech might play a role in their future, said Manness.

Generally during the first or second week of summer we offer camps for middle schoolers so they can see what it’s like, she said.

South Tech culinary arts students also accept some catering requests from the general public. They recently prepared a breakfast for MPC, a group of media professionals. The event was hosted on the South Tech campus.

We’ve done an event off-site for the chamber where we went to a golf club and did barbecue,” said Manness. “It gives the students an opportunity to get out and see what it’s like.

For more information about catering opportunities, call Manness at 314-989-7460.

Other programs at South Tech also welcome interaction with the public, like the automotive technology and cosmetology departments. For more information, contact the individual instructor. Names and contact information are available at

High schoolers wanting more information about South Technical High School’s programs can talk with their home school counselor, or call South Tech at 314-989-7400. A complete list of programs is available online.

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