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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Culinary 2 Careers

By Craig Smith

John McNamara, a senior at Vintage High School, has been passionate about food for as long as he can remember. “I tried to get a job at a restaurant when I was in the tenth grade, but I couldn’t even get an interview. People said I was too young and didn’t have any experience.” That left him a bit discouraged, but then, “Angela came by and told us about the culinary program.”

“Angela” is Angela Higdon from the Napa County Office of Education, who is a Coordinator for College and Career Readiness and works with all Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways in Napa County, to provide work-based learning experiences for students. CTE programs offer a wider variety of options including engineering, manufacturing and culinary to appeal to all students, college and non-college bound alike.

Last year, the Downtown Napa Association (DNA) approached Higdon about forming a partnership that would put students to work in downtown restaurants. “Immersing students in the local restaurant culture would give them the opportunity to see if they want to continue in the industry,” said Allison Hallum. She’s the managing partner for her families three Napa restaurants: Eiko’s, Eiko’s at the Oxbow and Napa Noodles, and is also the president of the Downtown Napa Association. “Plus, we love keeping Napa kids in Napa.” Higdon and Gillie Miller, Director of the College and Career Readiness Department with NCOE, agreed, and the Culinary 2 Careers program was launched. “Programs like Culinary 2 Careers make the practical connection between what students learn in high school and the essential requirements of the work world,” said Miller. “When students make that connection, they are more confident when obtaining employment.”

Eight students signed up for the initial program. Each interviewed at three locations with six different restaurants and were then matched with ones that seemed like the best fit for both. “This new program required students to participate in ‘soft skills’ training prior to beginning work at the restaurants.” The training included resume preparation and interview skills along with work ethic, time management, teamwork, customer service and communication in the workplace. Prior to getting into education, Higdon worked in corporate Human Resources and as a Recruiter, a background that lent itself perfectly to her helping high school students develop work readiness skills.

“Preparation is key to success in CTE. Students must understand the universal work-readiness skills in addition to specific job training in order to stand out as a great employee,” said Higdon.

Derek McClintick, a twelve-year veteran of the hospitality industry, runs Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management at Vintage High School, part of Career Tech Education, a two-year nationally-based program designed to prepare students for a career in hospitality. “It’s a really good initial look at life in the kitchen. In their first year, students learn entry level knife skills, how to follow a recipe, accurate measuring, and different aspects of cooking, such as roasting, pan frying and sauteing. They finish the first year with a California Food Handlers card.” The second year of the program focuses on advanced culinary skills, introduction to the hospitality industry, as well as, business and entrepreneurship. “The second year, students are actually dually enrolled at Vintage High and Napa Valley College.” Higdon works directly with CTE students as part of that curriculum.

“We all work in community with each other,” said Anette Madsen, co-owner with her brother, Brent, of Anette’s Chocolates. She’s on the board of the Downtown Napa Association, and is one of the employers that hired a student. “Young people just need guidance to help them advance in the work environment.” Madsen, who earlier in her life taught high school, is always training. “We teach employees all about chocolate, coffee and ice cream, but also about posture, language and interaction with people.

Anette’s hired Katelyn Hernandez as part of the program. Before the forty-hour program was complete, they offered Hernandez a permanent position working weekends.

“I looked forward to working at Annette’s for the experience and to build my resume,” said Hernandez. “Plus, I love sugar,”

she added with a laugh. She also feels a lot of pride about earning her own money. “It also made me more responsible, even away from work. Like, if I have an hour of time, I think about how I really want to spend it.” She’s currently in the second year of the program at Vintage High School. She plans on going to college and wants to become a pastry chef. “This has helped me get my foot in the door. I’m thankful for the program, and really love my job.”

“The program is a great foundation to teach a new generation of people who want to work in the kitchen and let them see how kitchens actually work,” said Krzyztof Pawlik, the General Manager at AVOW. He hired both McNamara and Caroline Simpkins from the Vintage High program. “School is great, but this is the real world. We’re glad that John (McNamara) came to us knowing how to handle knives, but time management doesn’t come easy. That’s something we can teach.” Pawlik likes the Vintage program a lot. “It’s a great way for restaurants to build community. These are local students entering one of the most challenging industries, and that’s

admirable.” He has been pleased with both students. “We want them to continue their education, of course, and both John and Caroline have helped us a lot.” He cites McNamara’s progress with an example. “He originally prepped the oyster bar, and now he mans it.” Pawlik recognizes the responsibility he and the staff at AVOW have to the students. “It’s up to us to set them up for success. We are glad both stayed beyond the initial forty hours.”

Sarah O’Connor, Principal of Vintage High School, is pleased that her students had the opportunity to participate in the unique Culinary 2 Careers program. “The intersection that is possible between Vintage High School students and Napa restaurants as a result of the Culinary 2 Careers Program, is community in action. Our job in education is to ensure that all students are college and career ready. Programs and opportunities like this make that goal a reality.”

As for McNamara? He feels extremely fortunate. “To be working in a high-end restaurant without any experience? No way I would have gotten in if it hadn’t been for the program.” And about those dreams of being a chef: “Oh, I’m absolutely going for it. I’m filling out applications for the CIA now.”


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