Chef Sarah Pilon runs the culinary arts program at Newport Harbor.

Kate Sacuy

Chef Sarah Pilon runs the culinary arts program at Newport Harbor.

Culinary Arts: Q&A with Sarah Pilon

The advanced culinary arts program works wonders for young people who are interested in a career in the foodservice industry, or who just want to learn about the making of a meal. Shaping and promoting the process of food production has Chef Pilon’s name written all over it. Pilon spoke with the Beacon‘s Kate Sacuy about life in the foods room.

KS: What class do you teach?

SP: My elective is foods and advanced culinary arts.

KS: Why did you want to teach this class?

SP: I wanted to teach something creative. I have a home economics credential, and I was planning on teaching middle school home economics but ended up teaching high school culinary. 

KS: What kind of student would enjoy this class?

SP: Everybody, because everyone likes to eat. And everyone should learn how to cook for themselves. A student that doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty. And be willing to try and do anything. Even students that are scared benefit from being in this class because they learn how to get their hands dirty and make food for themselves.

KS: What is a typical day in your class like?

SP: They come in and I tell everyone to start getting ready; put your hair up, wash their hands. And then they go to the kitchen and follow exactly what I say. And then students get to be kind of free and talk with their group members. Students always make an item with your group and then they wash dishes, clean up their work space, and get to eat your food and share with friends.

KS: What are the most popular activities students do in this class?

SP: We have a lot of little fun competitions between the classmates. We have a salad competition, we’ve had a chili cookoff before, we do different desserts and things for the holidays. 

KS: What kinds of work are students expected to do outside of class?

SP: Outside of class we have one big event at the end of the year called Evening of the Arts. Other than that we have opportunities for people to do catering events, so we feed people on campus. We have a competition team; we go and compete against other high schools.

KS: What kinds of feedback do you usually get from students about this class?

SP: They are surprised that they like things when they thought they weren’t going to like it. The funniest comment is “Honestly, it wasn’t that bad,” which is always funny because I wouldn’t give them anything funny or disgusting. 

KS: How do students get a good grade in your class?

SP: Show up with a good attitude. All the students have to do to make sure they get a good grade is to complete the pretty easy paperwork, in addition to cooking. They have to do an evaluation of their cooking. And it’s not like a essay, it’s just a little bit of writing. And take pictures of their food.

KS: Are there any skills that are required to enter this class?

SP: You can come in with no skills, just a good attitude, ready to learn. 

KS: What benefits would students obtain from taking this class?

SP: It is such an important skill to know how to cook for yourself. Everyone needs to know how to prepare their own food. You’re just wasting money if you’re relying on takeout all the time. We work in a lot of groups, so you’re benefiting with teamwork and work ethic.

KS: How can this class help students in their future?

SP: I have students that think they’re just doing it for school. I have a lot of students that can go get a job in the restaurant industry: Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc. They can get a food handler certificate in this class and get a job in the industry.

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