Olathe schools’ culinary arts instructor Mike Chrostowski has big things in store this year for the students in his two-year career and technical program — and he’s getting help from one of the biggest names on the Food Network TV channel.
Television chef Guy Fieri, host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and his foundation, Cooking with Kids, have donated a $15,000 state-of-the-art pretzel cart to the Olathe Culinary Arts program for use as a classroom learning tool.
You may ask yourself what a pretzel cart has to do with teaching students how to become future chefs. The answer, Chrostowski said: It has the potential to teach students what it might be like to run a restaurant.
The Awesome Pretzel Cart, as it’s officially called, will be the basis for several lessons on entrepreneurship. Students will be in charge of not only making the pretzels, but selling them.
“This is a great learning opportunity for these guys,” Chrostowski said. “We will eventually be able to sell pretzels at different functions around the metro area. The kids will develop a business plan and will have to report the numbers back to Fieri’s organization, Cooking with Kids.”
Fieri donates pretzel carts to nonprofit groups across the country that serve youth ages 8-18.
It’s not the first time that Chrostowski has had interaction with the TV chef. He first met Fieri in 2009 when he took his students to a student culinary competition in San Diego. His students also helped with food preparation on stage at the Midland Theatre during Fieri’s “Rock and Roll” cooking shows in 2010 and 2011.
And next month, Chrostowski’s students in the Culinary Arts program will cook for Fieri when he’s in town to emcee a barbecue hall of fame event at the American Royal.
It’s one of many exciting things going on as Chrostowski heads back to his classroom at Olathe North High School for his 10th year as the head of Olathe’s culinary arts program. The program’s 60 students meet three hours a day, five days a week and learn everything from safety and sanitation in the kitchen to cooking techniques. Students in the program run a student restaurant that is opened six times a year and features an elaborate five-course meal.
Chrostowski’s students frequently take their lessons on the road as well.
“We do several catering events,” Chrostowski said. “We do a lot of stuff with the American Royal. We also cater for corporations like Sprint and Waddell and Reed. We do about 30 to 40 functions a year.”
Chrostowski has big goals for his students this year. Among them is a return trip to both the Kansas ProStart Culinary Invitational and the National ProStart Culinary Invitational. The students have won first place in the state competition the last nine years in a row. They placed in the top four of the national competition the last six years in a row.
A good showing at these competitions would be just one more honor for 45-year-old Chrostowski. In July, he was honored with the Cutting Edge Award from the American Culinary Federation. He was one of eight chefs nationwide to be honored with the award during the association’s national convention, which was held in Kansas City.
“It’s really cool to be spotlighted like that,” Chrostowski said. “It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers.”
Even though the awards are nice, Chrostowski’s real pride comes in molding today’s students into tomorrow’s chefs. Many in his program have gone onto further education at the some of the top culinary schools, including Le Cordon Bleu and the Culinary Institute of America.
And even if students decide not to pursue a career in the restaurant industry, Chrostowski is confident that their culinary arts training will serve them well in whatever they choose to do.
“We are really trying to teach future leaders,” Chrostowski said.