Coursework at Pittsburg High School is no longer just about reading, writing and arithmetic.
Rather, students are putting these basic skills to use in career-readiness programs, such as the culinary arts program the school will offer beginning with the coming semester.
The effort is a joint venture with Philippe Accad, who recently opened Philippe’s near downtown Pittsburg.
"My dream has always been to start a culinary institute," Accad said, adding that he has taught extensively in the 40 years since his graduation from Vieux Bois in Geneva, Switzerland. "I’ve had a lot of fun teaching, but I’ve never been able to reproduce my dream."
At the Vieux Bois, Accad said chefs were trained meticulously about every aspect of running a restaurant or hospitality business.
"It was really interesting. It was done the right way," he said. "Everything was focused on the customer and how to do things for the customer."
That same focus will carry over to the USD 250 program, where Accad said Superintendent Destry Brown has encouraged him to run with his ideas.
"He really is encouraging me to do as much as I need to do with this program," Accad said.
"He’s an artist," Brown said of Accad and his passion for the culinary arts. "He talks like an artist, he acts like an artist."
Accad said the art of food will drive the courses, as he teaches students the elements they need to know to create their own masterpieces, beginning with the very basics.
The course will start off Jan. 7 with the most basic of kitchen procedures. Accad said throughout January students will learn how to use a knife and to understand different types of vegetables and cuts of meat.
"In January we really cover more of the equipment and some of the foods," Accad said. "Toward the end of February it will be learning the mother sauces."
These include white, brown and vegetarian sauces.
"We are going to teach them how to make them so they start with the bone and boil it and boil it."
These techniques will be taught in the professional cooking course, and Accad also will teach a course on kitchen sanitation. One will be offered Monday/Wednesday/Friday and the other Tuesday/Thursday.
"We’re going to do it at the High School this first time, in our FACS lab, the food lab," Brown said of the arrangement.
Each class will be limited to 12 students working in pairs of two at the six stoves in the school’s lab, and two sessions will be offered in the initial semester.
The culinary arts program has had great response, with almost three dozen students signing up for the 24 spots available.
"We’ve got a lot of interest from kids," Brown said. "The two classes are full."
"It’s exciting," Accad said. "From my understanding PHS students have been asking for it."
"Some of the students who cannot take the class will be coming here and doing an apprenticeship program," Accad said of the restaurant.
He said it is his understanding that there has been high interest in the course, including students agreeing to continue in school upon hearing that it would be offered.
"By me teaching a class I am influencing students who otherwise would have quit. It’s amazing. It’s rewarding," Accad said. "All of a sudden I am teaching for a reason."
Accad said he envisions making the course all it can be through field trips to butcher shops, farmer’s markets, fields, orchards and more, where students can learn about the ingredients they are using.
"They need to see and smell, so we will have field trips through the school year," Accad said. "Then they will really know the correct way of doing things."
He also plans for his students to be involved in helping to provided food to the community.
"When we start making something we will be able to give it to one of the associations that are serving the poor of the city."
Some of those endeavors will come later in the semester, which will be the first of a four-semester series of courses that will fulfill half of an Associate of Arts degree in Culinary Arts.
"When they finish those two years, they can go to Johnson County Community College to get their AA in Culinary Arts," Accad said, adding that the remainder of the degree should only take one year.
"It’s about qualifying them to do something after graduation," Brown said.
Brown said the culinary arts program is one of three beginning in the next semester, and students also can sign up for cosmetology or emergency medical technician courses. The hope is that some of the programs piloted in USD 250 will later be available to high schoolers throughout Crawford County.
"We’re kind of piloting it - seeing if we can get the program in place," Brown said.
In a hoped-for future scenario a trades facility would be constructed and career training in several fields would be offered under one roof.
"We’d bring together all the county schools for masonry, carpentry, welding, culinary arts and automotive," Brown said. "We’re really wanting to develop something."