At 5:15 a.m. Thursday morning, Shawnee Mission Schools culinary arts program instructor Justin Hoffman was already getting texts from high-schoolers waiting for him to open the doors to the student-run and staffed Broadmoor Bistro restaurant.
The students were hosting their first catered event of the new school year at the culinary program’s new location at the Center for Academic Achievement, the recently constructed administrative and educational center on West 71st Street in Overland Park. At least 100 members of the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce would be coming to dine that afternoon.
As the morning progressed, students worked with chef and instructor Jonathon Dallen to platter fruit, while others pulled brownies fresh out of the oven. Two boys finished up pickling 12 bushels of cucumbers. In a baking kitchen, students prepped dough to be baked into bread.
When chef Bob Brassard started the culinary program at Shawnee Mission 17 years ago, the space he operated out of was about 1,100 square feet. Dallen, who graduated from the program in 2002, remembers a one-room kitchen with one stove, “like a home economics labs in a high school,” before the program settled into its longtime, and much improved, home at the Broadmoor Technical Center.
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This school year, the Shawnee Mission School District’s culinary arts program moved to the Center for Academic Achievement, where students will work with state-of-the-art equipment in a 11,000 square-foot space, including a bakery, coffee shop, 225-seat restaurant as well as kitchens and classrooms.
At the program’s old site, a quarter-acre plot farmed by students produced 25,000 pounds of food in two years. At the new space, Brassard’s students have 1.3 acres to work with. An outdoor kitchen where students will learn techniques such as wood cooking is also in the works.
From learning cooking and baking techniques, to studying urban farming and how to work with vendors and electronic payment software, the Shawnee Mission School District’s culinary arts program aims to offer a hands-on learning experience that serves both the aspiring chef and the curious student.
At least 75 sophomores, juniors and seniors are participating in the program this year, but instructors expect that number to grow by 120 by the 2018-19 school year.
Students at the Broadmoor Bistro split responsibilities based on their passions and the courses they are taking. Some arrive at 4 a.m. each day to bake pastries and bread for the bakery. Others manage and prepare food for the 220-seat restaurant that will operate Wednesday nights starting Sept. 13. Others prepare drinks at a coffee shop or practice the management side of operating a restaurant.
Always nearby are seasoned chefs who oversee and challenge students as they prepare food and make decisions themselves.
“The chefs call it manage by movement,” Hoffman said. “Because we are always moving.”
Like an extracurricular sport, many students spend an extra 15-20 hours a week participating in the program. The program also includes preparing and cooking for catered events, including those of the district, and manning a booth at the Overland Park Farmers Market on Saturday.
Students can stand to earn up to 24 hours of college credit if they choose to move on to a culinary program after high school, Hoffman said.
“The goal, and really what makes this special, is that the learning is all hands-on,” said Hoffman, who graduated from the program in 2004.
For Brassard, the biggest change in his program is not just the space, but how often culinary students are able to collaborate with other students and teachers involved in other focused programs of study offered by the district.
A student graphic designer helped create the label that culinary students learned state law requires their pickled products to bear. Engineering students have helped design the urban farm and future outdoor kitchen space at the site. English and culinary instructors work together to help students through tasks such as creating a resume.
“Our philosophy is still to provide as many learning experiences as possible in this hospitality industry,” Brassard said.
The Broadmoor Bistro bakery, housed in the Center for Academic Achievement at 8200 W. 71st St., is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Starting Sept. 13, the restaurant operates each Wednesday night and serves meals for $30 a person. Cash tips go to students.