Creating Future Chefs


One Monday morning recently, Dee Gardner came into her classroom – a full industrial kitchen setup with six cooking stations – to find a couple boxes of chicken nuggets left behind by a group of district kitchen workers. She wasn’t sure what to do with them, so she got creative.

Turning the oven to 450 degrees and heating up a stack of nuggets doesn’t pass for a lesson in her class. So, in addition, she had students search online for a sauce recipe, identify and gather what they needed from the 40 ingredients she provided and simmer it all together.

Some groups prepared teriyaki sauce, another made McDonald’s Szechuan sauce while most cooked up various flavors of barbecue sauce. Then, the groups walked around the room, dunked their nuggets in each concoction and squared off in a tasting contest.

“The imitation Chick-fil-A sauce was the easy winner in both classes,” Gardner said.

Gardner teaches her Lakes High School students how to cook in the school’s culinary arts program. They start with smoothies and grilled cheese sandwiches. By the end of their time with her, they have learned how to whip up more advanced meals like eggs benedict and lasagna.

Students learn every part of the cooking process. They prep their own ingredients, they cut, they cook and they clean. Whether they are interested in a career as a chef or simply being able to cook meals for their families at home, students get the full cooking experience during the three semester program. They even earn college credits for their efforts.

Most districts offer cooking classes to students, but one thing that sets the Lakes program apart is the classroom space.

“I taught at a previous school in a portable,” Gardner said. “I had to take the dirty laundry home with me every night.”

After renovations at Lakes finished in 2010, the new building opened with a state-of-the-art kitchen. “They brought in commercial appliances,” said CPSD Director of Career and College Readiness Diane Carver. “It’s more of an industry standard kitchen than most high schools have.”

The culinary arts program is one of the many career and technical education (CTE) courses offered in Clover Park School District. It is also part of the district’s new personalized pathways program that began this year.

Students can choose one of 12 different career pathways to guide their high school experience. The pathways include hospitality and tourism, which is the path the culinary arts program follows, along with career areas such as health science, information technology, STEM and more.

“It is an option to help students graduate and get them to their career quicker,” Carver said. “We want to be able to send as many students as possible to a university, but if that’s not their interest or if their career interest doesn’t require a university degree, we are not really serving students to send them that way.”