Wednesday, May 14, 2008

80-year-old chef turns students into pros

Larry McCormack / The Tennessean (Photigrapher)
Chef Mary Campbell, center, shows some carving and decorating tips to culinary arts students Salvador Mota, right, and Luke Abscon at Glencliff High School.

Glencliff culinary arts program only high school program in Tennessee with accreditation
By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • May 14, 2008

SOUTH NASHVILLE — As Glencliff High School culinary arts student Helbin Shemssulldin rushed toward the dining room, thoughts rushed through her head about what she had to do.
"Oh my gosh, hurry up. Set the tables," she thought to herself. The students were supposed to be preparing a brunch for Metro's Teacher of the Year nominees. But a misunderstanding over the time meant the teachers arrived early, and students had to quickly prepare breakfast instead of brunch.

Although stressful, such an experience is close to what students can expect in the real world of culinary arts. And it's the real world for which Chef Mary Campbell, the school's culinary arts instructor, tries to prepare her students.

Campbell, 80, is an honorary member of the Academy of Chefs, a certified culinary arts educator and certified culinary cuisine chef. She founded the Glencliff program 23 years ago.
"I've always liked working with young people," she said. "These kids make me stay young."
On the wall in the dining room, which is set up to resemble a tearoom, are awards and certificates of accomplishment the program has received throughout the years. More awards and certificates occupy a display case.

The program, which was accredited in January by the American Culinary Federation, also recently began having events for outside guests. One event involved a luncheon in which state employees, community leaders and representatives from the restaurant industry offered critiques of the food and service.

"It's my way of finding out if the students are doing the job they need to be doing," Campbell said.

Chef keeps her eyes peeled

The students will cater a luncheon later this month for a group from Vanderbilt University. Often, said Campbell, the school also has visits from other high schools, which send representatives so they can learn about starting their own programs.
Next year, the Glencliff program will expand when the school converts to "small learning communities." It's the only high school in Tennessee to receive accreditation, an honor generally reserved for colleges, Campbell said.

"I just want my class to be the best class in Metro if I'm going to teach it," the chef said.
Campbell said she holds her students to high professional standards.
"Chef knows when we do something wrong," said senior Beyan Omer, adding it's not easy to hide things from her.

Beyan said her experience in the program has been challenging, and she's learned that serving is as much as a challenge as cooking. That's because you have to keep the orders straight, added Helbin.

"Basically, it's just like a restaurant," Beyan said.

Some enter profession

Campbell said she often sees great improvement in her students when they return from summer break. It's as if she's seeing "a whole new student."

"What they heard sunk in, and it takes form," she said, adding many practice what they learned throughout the summer.

Some of Campbell's former students have gone on to have culinary arts careers. Ryan Rucker, for example, is one of the executive sous chefs at the Capitol Grille in Chicago. Joseph Garrett is a chef at the Belle Meade Country Club, she said.

But even if they don't go on to establish careers as chefs, Campbell said she hopes their experience in the program will lead to a lifelong love of cooking. Also, she said, she hopes it helped make their experience at Glencliff a positive one. Campbell said many students have told her that if it weren't for the culinary arts program, they probably would have dropped out of school.

Helbin and Beyan, both of who were born in Turkey and have families from Kurdistan, said they don't plan to pursue culinary careers.

But they do hope to use their skills to cook foods from their native country, as well as new dishes they were exposed to through the program at Glencliff.

"Cooking is fun, because you can always be creative," Helbin said.

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