Whether students just want to learn to cook or instead pursue a career in the food industry, Madison Consolidated High School students have those opportunities through the Cub Culinary program.
“I care about cooking well and eating well, and I care that our kids gain those skills that they can put something on a table to share with their friends and families,” said LeAnne Blackerby, who teaches Culinary in the MCHS Food and Consumer Sciences Department.
Blackerby taught Language Arts for 30 years before transitioning to become a culinary teacher beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. In the first three years, she said the school “more than doubled the size of the program” with the number of students participating ranging from 150 to 180 students.
“I’m proud of it. I hope I’ve taken what other people have done before me and built on it. I’m inspired,” said Blackerby, who said the program’s growth is a collaboration of all staff members of the MCHS Food and Consumer Sciences Department.
“One of things that makes me happy at Madison is we’re a good team, we’ve built a good team, and it’s well supported,” said Blackerby.
Debi Brim brings 30 years’ experience with a catering business that involved making wedding cakes and cookies, and by combining their experiences, they use that to the benefit the students. “I teach the kids how to bake cakes. She teaches them how to decorate,” said Blackerby, noting that Brim was also responsible for building the curriculum for the Principles of Culinary class. “She’s amazing. She’s incredibly practical, and like me, she wants what’s best for the kids.”
Amanda Briggs teaches Food Science for both the Food and Consumer Science Department and the Agriculture Department, along with being the Career Technical Education program leader.
Blackerby also benefits from the inspiration of her husband, Wayne Blackerby, who has vast experience in the food industry including restaurant ownership. She learned to cook from her mother who made “good ol‘ southern comfort food,” and also considered herself good at baking, but her marriage to Blackerby has taken that to a new level. “Being with him for 12 years, I get to see the professional side of things,” she noted.
Blackerby said she has lamented that many of today’s students are neglecting good nutrition by living on meals like fast food, frozen pizza, ramen noodles and chicken nuggets. She knows they can do better, and thinks Cub Culinary is helping them get there.
“There are so many things to cook and ways to cook that are amazing and delicious and simple,” said Blackerby, and Cub Culinary provides them that opportunity. “Society has changed. Culture has changed. A huge amount of what’s in the grocery store is prepared food. It’s harder to find basic ingredients than 10 years ago because everything is already pre-made, half done for you. I care about that. I care about kids having skills” to know how to cook.
Blackerby said students begin with various levels of cooking knowledge. There are some students who come in with no skills, and “by the time they’re done, they have really good basics for cooking most of what they want to at home, and some professional skills. They get an OSHA certification for safety in the workplace,” she said.
And there are options for students who want to pursue culinary careers. “If you do this professionally, there’s more than one path,” said Blackerby, noting there was a time when working in the food industry would be challenging to make a living but she said today there are opportunities in which “you can actually make a good living in the restaurant business.”
Blackerby most of all wants students who participate in Cub Culinary “to have a great experience” while also “broadening their experience” in learning about culinary and acquiring those skills, providing them “opportunities that they didn’t recognize they have.”
Blackerby also wants the students to gain confidence in what they learn through Cub Culinary, whether it’s not being intimidated by a gas stove or a recipe in the kitchen, or going into a restaurant and being “able to order comfortably whether it’s something they’ve had or not. I want them to feel confident and not intimidated by the experience … I want them to be able feed themselves on a budget and not on a budget. I want them to be comfortable with eating and eating well. Ideally, I’d want them to love food and the conversation that’s involved, and the family and friends that’s involved.”
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