Eudora food guru prepares graduating students for culinary success
Culinary arts instructor Jason Gray's class this year was really cooking -- and will be for quite some time.
Gray said he has seen last semester's graduating seniors at the Eudora De Soto Technical Education Center have more success in their chosen field this year than ever before.
"As far as looking at percentages of those who are going into the industry, or who are following into post-secondary education in this industry with that in mind, it's been the best year I ever had," Gray said.
He attributes the success of his class this year to students' teamwork.
"The senior class that just left was the first class I ever had that had a large number of students who had known each other a long time," Gray said. "They were closer to each other, and I think they worked very well together."
Among the cream of Gray's crop, six are headed to college either this summer or in the fall and 12 have gained or retained competitive employment in the hospitality industry.
"I guess each the year the standards of the curriculum increase with more involvement of the industry, specifically the state and national restaurant associations," Gray said.
The curriculum also garnered six of his students a prestigious National ProStart Certificate of Achievement from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. These students qualify for a $2,000 scholarship to the school of their choice.
Eudora High School graduate Craig Elmer, one of the certificate winners, was a member of Gray's class. Elmer said Gray prepared him well for his upcoming years attending The Art Institute of Phoenix for a culinary arts degree.
"He would stick his neck out there for us and help us do what we wanted to do," Elmer said.
Among the smorgasbord of projects Gray set his students upon, Elmer's favorite had to do with a catering test. Gray gave the students a list of ingredients, appetizers and the number of people at a meal. From there the students had to calculate an entire cost plan.
"It was like running a restaurant and we had to figure everything out for the whole dinner," Elmer said.
Creative projects help cement Gray's image in the mind of his pupils like that of a much younger and modern-day Mr. Chips.
"He was the most favorite teacher I've ever had," Elmer said. "He had a totally different way of teaching and got you involved in everything."
A focus of the class was to prepare the students for college where they will have much longer class periods than they had in high school, and also for the real world, where they will spend hours and hours on their feet, Gray said.
During his summer break, Gray will be keeping his culinary edges sharp with a cooking internship that will whisk him off to Jamaica to learn the country's native cuisine.
With the internship, Gray said he will focus on working with college students so he can add another dynamic to his teaching style.
Gambino's Pizza and Hero Deli is sponsoring Gray's trip.
Gray is also involved in another project working with the stadium crew of the Kansas City T-Bones to learn how to manage food on a large scale.
Gray said the recipes he teaches in his class vary, but he always stresses the method of cooking.
"If they know all the methods then it doesn't matter what they are dealing with," Gray said.
Gray's class was a feast of food for thought that left Elmer, for one, wanting more.
"I wish I had another year with him," Elmer said.