Westfield Culinary Arts Program Teaches More Than Just Home Cooking
Photographer / Whitney Moore
After more than 10 years as part of the curriculum at Westfield High School, the Family and Consumer Sciences program has grown from one full-time teacher and four classes offered, to four full-time teachers, 14 different courses and more than 1,200 students enrolled – and 850 of those are in the culinary arts program.
“After seeing how well the students connected with our first two culinary and nutrition classes in 2011 and 2012, it was clear that building a structured series of courses would serve our students well,” says Chef Nikki Heflin.
It’s a big growth spurt for a high school program, but Heflin believes that’s because the culinary arts program is something students see as skills that can be used immediately, and not just after graduation. Students learn how to analyze menus at fast-food restaurants to make better choices, and then participate in labs where they can prepare quick, healthy and affordable meals at home. Higher-level students are trained in a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, and prepare recipes that are helpful as preparation for working in a variety of restaurants, from fast-casual to fine dining.
“The curriculum is rigorous, but students gain a sense of purpose and pride in working as a group, and as individuals, to master their various culinary skills,” Heflin says. “The curriculum is built so we can partner with our students and give them a platform to be young professionals, while we are still respected as their leaders.”
Heflin says that while the students essentially learn from the teachers, the teachers also learn from students.
Courses offered through the series include Nutrition and Wellness; Advanced Nutrition and Dietetics; Intro to Culinary Arts and Hospitality; Principles of Culinary Arts 1 – ServSafe; Principles of Culinary Arts – Basic Food Theory; and Baking and Pastry Arts.
The program has a dual-credit partnership with Ivy Tech Community College, offering high value for the courses. Three of the culinary courses are taught as dual-credit courses, including the two Principles of Culinary Arts courses and Baking and Pastry Arts. Students can qualify for up to eight college credits at no extra cost to them or their parents. Certifications can be earned through the nationally recognized ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification, which verifies that a manager or person in charge has sufficient food safety knowledge to protect the public from food-borne illness.
Students participating in the culinary arts program, or those who have previously participated, can be part of the Foodies Rock career and technical student organization. It is a student-driven business established in 2017 by Heflin, who serves as the academic coach. Chef Bryan Ferreira serves as an advisor.
“Foodies Rock was established when the high school staff saw the talents of our students and inquired if we could help cater an event,” Heflin says. “Since my background was in catering, it seemed like a no-brainer.”
Services offered by Foodies Rock include an array of on- and off-premises catering, community cooking classes, custom desserts and participation in large-scale community events. Members are eligible to compete in state and national events hosted by the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).
“A hallmark of our program for many years has been hosting themed events led by our students that are open to the community,” Heflin says. “Our students will work in teams to develop a recipe based on a theme and then prepare 200 to 350 samples of their dish, all while also setting up a themed table and serving their dish during the event. Three events are hosted each year, with these events serving as the students’ final exams.”
In the future, the culinary arts program will partner with the school’s Environmental Club and utilize a grant to build a patio garden, where Foodies Rock participants can grow fresh herbs and potted vegetables. They’ll also have a composter to limit the amount of waste and to help make the patio garden self-sustaining.
“The goal of the garden is to teach the students how to grow their own food, practice sustainability, and to reduce food costs and waste,” Heflin says.
To learn more, reach out to Heflin at firstname.lastname@example.org.