Dec 26, 2010 11:50 AM by Chris Welty
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - With a strong assist from former Notre Dame
basketball coach Digger Phelps, John McDonogh High School is
planning to offer New Orleans' first full-time culinary arts
program for high school students.
Beginning next fall, about 100 sophomores from across the city
will enroll in the program, which will begin with three weeks of
mettle-testing at Cafe Reconcile to make sure students are
committed to the fast pace and hard work of the restaurant
After the students have fulfilled their core academic
requirements, most of their courses will be in culinary arts, with
hospitality and management components in addition to the basics of
pastries and hollandaise.
With the French Quarter nearby and the Louisiana Restaurant
Association's Education Foundation helping to run the program,
internships will likely be plentiful.
"A key result is that our alumni 10, 15 years from now will own
restaurants and hotels. We will make John McDonogh the No. 1
culinary high school in the country," said Phelps, who plans to
travel to New Orleans often from his home in Notre Dame to lend his
Much about the program, from the funding to the budget to the
details of the curriculum, is yet to be determined. Phelps hopes to
draw on donations to build a state-of-the-art kitchen on campus.
The New Orleans Center For Creative Arts is beginning an
afternoon culinary arts program next year and is accepting
applications from students who will be in ninth through 12th
grades. The culinary students will also be eligible for the
school's new full-time academic program.
In a food-centric city where children often grow up learning
their grandmother's gumbo recipe, the new programs are a chance to
begin formal training early. If all goes well, the John McDonogh
program may expand by a grade level each year so that in four
years, the entire school is a culinary arts academy.
culinary-chase.jpgView full sizeNew Orleans chef Leah Chase
inspires the students with a brief talk about taking advantage of
all the opportunities offered to them.
In the post-Katrina charter school-dominated landscape, the
remaining high schools run by the Recovery School District have
lagged academically and are slated to eventually become charters.
For an RSD school like John McDonogh, where many students come
from low-income families and average test scores are still
extremely low, training in the restaurant business offers a path to
success, not only as a chef or a restaurant manager, but by perhaps
someday owning the joint.
"The way we structure this is important - not for a lifetime of
servitude, but for bringing them from employee to employer," said
Ron Taylor, principal of John McDonogh. "This is an opportunity
for an RSD high school to take on a life of its own, to draw from
all over the city."
Any group interested in chartering the school will be strongly
encouraged to maintain the culinary arts curriculum, said RSD
Deputy Superintendent Kevin Guitterrez.
At a news conference Wednesday, Phelps said he got to know New
Orleans during recruiting trips as a coach and wanted to do
something for the city after Hurricane Katrina. He paid for new
homes for two families and found donors for a new basketball court
at John McDonogh. Then, he began to push for a culinary program at
the school, speaking passionately on the subject at a public
hearing on school governance in October.
John McDonogh is already in its second year of ProStart, a
culinary management program funded by the LRA's Education
Foundation. About a dozen students are enrolled in ProStart, which
includes internships and classes but is not a full-time curriculum.
"I want to be a chef. I want to go to college. I want to have
something to do and have a better life," said one student, Rashid
Dooky Chase proprietor Leah Chase addressed the ProStart
students on Wednesday, reminding them that many New Orleanians,
including women, managed to start their own restaurants without the
benefit of formal educations.
"You have an advantage, so we need you to step up to the plate.
If you do the work, the money will come," Chase said. "If we
could get people off the street and stop the killing, that would be