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Culinary arts comes to the classroom in Pequot Lakes

Chef Tom Johnson, of Breezy Point Resort, shows Riley Kassahn and Brodie Olson the proper way to prepare their twice-baked potatoes. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 1 / 5
Mirjana Ganley and Hannah Oelke mix up the filling for their twice-baked potatoes. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 2 / 5
Kenzie Rickard and Garrett Westlund get ready to put their potatoes in the oven. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 3 / 5
Braelyn Erickson happily works on her twice-baked potatoes. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 4 / 5
Emma Ray (right) and Shalanaree Thatcher scoop their potato mixture into the potato skins while making twice-baked potatoes. Theresa Bourke / Echo Journal 5 / 5

More than 300 high school students in central Minnesota are enrolled in culinary courses, thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Minnesota Chamber's Business Education Networks program.

Seventy-six of those students are in Kristen Gabrielson's classes at Pequot Lakes High School, which is in its first year of offering the culinary program.

ProStart - as the program is called - is a joint effort among area resorts and restaurant leaders that are working with the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, Central Lakes College, Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection, and Hospitality Minnesota.

The goal is to teach students basic culinary skills and educate them in the hospitality and restaurant management fields. At the end of the two-year program, students can take a test and earn a certificate that Gabrielson described as "pretty close" to the equivalent of a tech school education.

"They're getting the work experience and the education here in school - in high school. And they can take that with them after they leave high school for a career in the hospitality field or restaurant management," said Gabrielson, the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Pequot Lakes. "They're able to walk into a career, into a job and say, 'Hey, I have taken these courses; I have learned the skills; I have the experience.'"

Gabrielson calls her ProStart classes Culinary Arts I and II. Students in those classes have to have also taken her Intro to Food course.

She gets students in the kitchen to cook at least twice a week, and they get to pick their own recipes and take turns divvying up duties.

Breezy Point Resort Chef Tom Johnson, who has been involved in the ProStart program for four years, is working with Pequot Lakes by coming into Gabrielson's class and giving cooking tutorials. On Tuesday, Nov. 21, he showed students how to make twice-baked potatoes.

"What I look at from my standpoint as the chef in the field - or the employer - is we need to do everything we can to expose our industry to the younger kids coming out of high school to see if it's something they have an interest in doing," Johnson said.

Sophomore Anthony Sullivan, one of Gabrielson's Culinary Arts I students, already knows the class will be useful for him.

"One of my goals is to one day maybe own a ... restaurant," Sullivan said. "I've learned all about cooking and hospitality (in ProStart) and those are two things that are very important factors."

When not in the kitchen, Gabrielson teaches her students about the business side of the restaurant and hospitality industries, which she said is especially relevant to the lakes area.

"We are surrounded by hospitality, and we are surrounded by resorts and restaurants. And they can take this (class) and stay in the area," she said. "The goal is to find quality people to work there, who know the skills and have the experience, and our students are getting that. And if that can help them in the future, then it can be very valuable for them."

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