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If you didn’t know better, you might think the culinary arts class at the Oldham County Schools Arvin Center is a show on the Food Network.
Students wearing red, black and white chef jackets huddle around stainless steel work tables.
A girl peers into a massive commercial mixer.
A young man unwraps a giant piece of blood-red steak. A group of students slide pieces of raw chicken onto wooden skewers.
The burners are lit with a dark blue flame, a cloud of steam rises from a large convection oven, and the pantry is stocked with every ingredient imaginable.
And, as on any Food Network program, there’s a master chef.
Chef Garrett Sanborn of Prospect started teaching the culinary course to sophomores, juniors and seniors at Oldham County, South Oldham and North Oldham high schools four years ago.
He studied at the Opryland Culinary Institute in Nashville, Tenn., and taught at Western High School and Waggener Traditional High School in Louisville before coming to Oldham County.
His talent for all things culinary and his knack for working with students make Sanborn stand out.
“I’m not sure we could ever tap into everything he has to offer,” said Matt Watkins, associate principal of the Arvin Center, adding that he doesn’t know anyone “as decorated as the chef,” when it comes to cooking and baking.
Sanborn has been on the support team for the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team since 1995, and has traveled to Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and within the United States for competitions.
He recently won the American Culinary Federation Cutting Edge Award at the 2011 Southeast Regional Conference, and was inducted into 2011 American Academy of Chefs.
This year, Sanborn is teaching culinary basics to 100 high school students.
The young chefs cater for 55 members of the La Grange Rotary Club during weekly meetings, serving everything from sandwiches to roasted chicken to spaghetti.
They also cater for sports teams and school events.
The Rotary provides funding for culinary courses, and Kroger in Prospect donates some ingredients for the course, such as meat that is not sold, said Chef Ian Rich, who studied under Sanborn at Waggener from 2003 to 2007 and assists the class.
In class, Sanborn makes his way around the kitchen, but refrains from interfering with students’ work.
When smoke rises from one of the large ovens, he dashes to the see what’s up.
A student presents a giant pan of burnt
“This is no good,” Sanborn says.
But he doesn’t toss the brownie blunder into a garbage can.
“It’s OK,” Sanborn says. “We can make truffles.”
He peels off the burnt layer.
With a small ice cream scoop, he spoons clumps of sticky brownie from the bottom of the pan, and drops them into the palms of students who want a taste.
“Sometimes they don’t come out right, but they still taste good,” Sanborn says.
His students can make anything with the skills he has taught, he says.
“They learn how to work with people, and they work as individuals. They learn how to go above and beyond to create, and they build on their experiences.” Students also earn entry-level state culinary certification upon completion of the course.
Seventeen-year-old Christine Lund, an OCHS junior, said Sanborn instills confidence in his students.
She participated in the Skills USA commercial baking competitions, where she made pineapple pie, pumpkin bread, sugar cookies, fruit-filled and cream-filled pastry puffs and braided white bread.
“I was so nervous, but I knew that I could do it,” Lund said. “He’s taught me to do your own thing, make sure you’re organized, don’t worry about what other people are doing, always stay focused, and to have fun with it.”
Lund loves cake decorating, and plans to study baking at Sullivan University.
Hans Stewart, 16, an OCHS junior, said Sanborn’s course has encouraged him to experiment with food and to make the most of the ingredients he has to work with.
“I started going back home and trying to make things on my own,” he said.
Watkins hopes students who take culinary arts “because they love watching the Food Network” have developed an interest in cooking, and use their skills daily.
For those serious about a career in culinary, Watkins said Sanborn has shown them the amount of effort and work it takes to be a chef, and taught them to take pride in what they do.
Regardless of whether his students will be featured on the Food Network, Sanborn hopes they take the essential skills with them.
“They’re going to eat all their life, they might as well learn how to cook,” he said.
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