Columbia Career Center Gets National Recognition

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COLUMBIA - John "Chormaic" Sullivan's was off from school Friday. Instead of staying home and enjoying the free time, he practiced knife cuts on mushrooms and bell peppers at the Columbia Area Career Center kitchen.

Sullivan University, a national culinary institute, ranked the culinary arts program at the career center in the "Hot 100" high school programs across the country.

Brook Harlan, one of the program's instructors, said it is the fourth year Sullivan University has honored the program.

"It's a great recognition just to show that we are working hard and that we have great students coming out of our program," he said. "One of the qualifications is how we place nationally through student organizations such as Skills USA."

Students from the program won national titles for baking and culinary in the 2013 competition. 

Harlan said hands-on kitchen training has increased significantly since the program started receiving the national attention.

"We focus definitely on tasting food, but we want them to know how to function and work in a kitchen," he said. The student's duties include cleaning, recycling, compost laundry, in addition to learning cooking and baking skils.

The first kitchen fired up in the basement of Hickman High School in 1997. Currently, there are five total kitchens operating at several Columbia area high schools, icluding the baking and culinary kitchens at the career center.

He said about 175 students are active across the industrial kitchens. Students begin taking courses at their respective high schools and then move to the commerical kitchen as they advance. 

"They can take something their sophomore, junior and senior year to really better themselves if they want to go into this industry or if they're just cooking for themselves," Harlan said.

The Career Center serves students of many ages, but the culinary arts program is exclusively geared toward high school students. Harlan said he sees his student applying their skills outside of the kitchen as well. 

"Working in an industry like culinary arts and food service, you get really efficient and you learn how to be organized and I think that can help you with any area," Harlan said.

Sullivan is competing in a district competition next weekend. He said he hopes to carry on the center's tradition and make it to nationals.