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Cookin’ it up in new kitchens

Culinary space includes state-of-the-art kitchens, cafe 

Kentwood — Perfect cinnamon roll dough requires water (but not too much), yeast, eggs and flour, said East Kentwood High School foods teacher Nichole Dykstra as she measured, mixed and kneaded.

Before prepping their own dough, students watched Dykstra’s come together in a new state-of-the-art instructional kitchen, complete with stainless steel prepping surfaces, freezers, ovens and professional KitchenAid mixers. For an up-close view of the cinnamon roll lab, students looked to TV monitors affixed to their stations.

Next door, in the new consumer kitchen, Chef Don Ram’s students put together cordon bleu and stuffed chicken they deboned earlier in the week with turkey and either smoked gouda or ghost pepper jack cheese. They also made stock from the chicken bones to make sauce for the cordon bleu. 

The district recently unveiled the new culinary arts space at East Kentwood High with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Funded by the passage of a 2021 bond, the approximately $5 million, 8,000 square foot project included renovated space and a large addition. It replaced the former 1970’s style kitchen. Along with two kitchens, there’s also a collaboration cafe area with seating, and a serving area. It replaces a one-classroom instructional cooking area that had limited space and old, small equipment.

“Now we have a much cleaner, sanitary space, and there is more flow and room for students to actually work,” Dykstra said.. 

Senior Gary Woods, who is in the class Foods 1 and plans to take Foods 2, said he likes “how updated it is, how much more space there is and how many more supplies there are. (In) the last kitchen, we had to share all of our supplies. …The thing I’ve enjoyed the most was things I’ve never tried, like bruschetta, and we made a fruit salsa last week.”

Added junior Vy Le: “I think it’s a lot more efficient than the last (culinary space). It’s just a nicer and bigger space for the students. I enjoyed making pumpkin muffins and cinnamon muffins. They all tasted good.”

More Culinary Opportunities

The space provides the opportunity for more classes, better labs, serving events and better food, thanks to consistent equipment, Dykstra said. It will be used by 600 students this school year in the introductory Foods 1 and more advanced Foods 2 classes. Dykstra and Ram plan to add Foods 3 and 4.

“I’ve always been really interested in getting kids skills they can take with them for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Ram, in his first year teaching at East Kentwood, is introducing dishes and menu items in three to four classroom lab lessons a week. He previously taught in Grand Rapids Community College’s culinary program. 

“I get to show students more than just home-style cooking. We can actually do commercial-style cooking, which is basically leading to a career,” he said.

Ram said the new culinary space is comparable to GRCC’s. “I think at the high-school level, no one else does it like we do. …We are actually matching colleges now.”

Senior Phan Moe, from Thailand, said he is learning to make foods he’s not familiar with, like pizza and fruit salad, and that he shares what he learns

“I show my mom how to make them at home,” he said.

Read more from Kentwood: 
Students & grandpas connect through cards, hugs and common languages
Honing their craft as fellows in TeachMichigan

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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