Central Lunenburg culinary class offers lessons on more than just recipes

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, October 6, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

VICTORIA – At Central Lunenburg High, Culinary Arts instructor Alicia Hilliard has one rule: canned food is a last resort. 

“Our kitchen is a scratch kitchen,” Hilliard said. “We don’t use anything out of a can generally. For the most part, all of our own doughs, all of our own sauces, we make everything ourselves. This way, they get to know everything.” 

They being the students in this case. Having previously worked with the Lunenburg County Library System, this is Hilliard’s first foray into teaching and she wants students to walk away both with new experiences and skills they can use in the future. She shares different recipes and foods from other parts of the world, giving students the opportunity to travel in their cooking. 

“I like to hit different parts of the world because I feel that, maybe, kids from Lunenburg don’t get a chance to travel that much and we can do that with our (food),” Hillard said. “So we do a lot of international foods and I give a lot of background on that particular country or that area we’re focusing on.” 

She teaches the students how to make their own dough and then build ham & cheese pinwheels. They learn how to make puddings and bake sweet treats, all so the students can learn how to use equipment and read recipes. 

“I try to let them do some easy baking things in the beginning so they get to know their way around the kitchen and how to use the equipment and read a recipe properly and, you know, measuring cups and all that stuff,” Hillard said. “Then we start exploring different cuisines.” 

Central Lunenburg launches ‘Bean Machine’

But learning about recipes, baking and equipment isn’t all Hillard’s students are doing. She’s added a new project to the class, one that teaches business and economic skills. That’s where “The Bean Machine” comes in. Hillard and her culinary students are running their own coffee shop at the school. 

This is an actual functioning coffee shop, where students make the food and drinks, handle service and learn how to run a restaurant. The students picked the name and spent time developing the menu. 

“We bring it directly to the staff member who ordered it and they’re able to use a guest check, which is important if (the students) want to go into the restaurant business so they’re able to read a guest check and make change,” Hilliard said. “It really adds an emphasis on their customer service. It’s a great idea, I think, because they get so many different aspects of the restaurant business in this little tiny coffee shop.”

It’s an idea that came to life out of complaining about space. 

“I was complaining to my (Career and Technical Education) coordinator that it’s such a drag the fact that our kitchen is in one building and the classroom is in another,” Hilliard said. “And I said, I wish we could bring the kitchen lab to Central High. And she responded, so why don’t you step out of your room? It just grew from there and the kids were so enthusiastic that we just rolled with it.” 

More plans in the works

Hilliard;s ideas for the class don’t stop at the Central Lunenburg coffee shop. The group is already accepting catering projects as well, on a limited basis and ordering a wood-fire pizza oven, to expand the scope of what they serve. 

“We have a catering job coming up – it’s about a hundred people. It’s for a baby shower and that’s coming up next month,” Hilliard said. “We also do a box lunch program where we sell a complete lunch, dessert, appetizer… and we sell that to the staff. We start that up as soon as they get their feet wet in the kitchen, and that should start in a couple of weeks.” 

In the coming months, the culinary class will also hold a pie sale and start letting the students come up with different concepts. 

“We’ll do a few pop-up restaurants (on campus),” Hilliard said. “We’ll do pop-up wing stands, we do a pop-up donut shop. I think we’re going to start branching out and offering some more baked items in our coffee shop as well. The kids wanted to do cinnamon rolls right off the bat, so I think we might practice that next week and then offer that as a special.”

Working to eat intelligently

At the end of the day, Hilliard hopes to teach her students at Central Lunenburg skills they can use and how to make informed choices about what they eat. 

“I feel that everybody needs to know where their food comes from and you need to understand the amount of work and amount of resources it takes to fill your plate,” Hilliard said. “And to eat well is a conscious decision, because not only is it filling your body with nutrition, but it also affects our planet. I try to encourage our kids to make informed decisions, so that they can eat intelligently.”