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ACHS Culinary Arts Program Trains Future Chefs While Teaching Important Life Skills

Chef Craig Scheuerman in the ACHS Culinary Arts kitchen (photo by Les Machado)

Alexandria, VA –  For the past 20 years, Chef Craig Scheuerman has presided over the Culinary Arts Program at Alexandria City High School, nurturing generations of possible future chefs, cooks, and kitchen staff. The students, however, learn much more than chopping, broiling, and baking.

“We’re teaching important life skills: time management, organization, and teamwork,” Scheuerman said. “If they decide to pursue a career in the culinary arts, they are well equipped to do so. If they choose not to, they still have those life skills, and we can be confident they won’t starve.”

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of chefs and head cooks will grow by five percent by 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations. It anticipates an average of 22,000 openings for chefs and head cooks annually.

None of this surprises the Johnson & Wales University graduate who has led the Culinary Arts Program at the King Street campus since 2005. “There is definitely a need for skilled people in this industry,” Scheuerman said. “I have friends in the industry who say they always need people, that they never have a full staff.”

Buffalo chicken bowtie pasta (photo courtesy of ACPS Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Craig Scheuerman)

ACHS aims to fill that need by offering its students the opportunity to learn and work in the equivalent of a fully operational commercial kitchen with multiple tray tables, burners, ovens, sinks, and refrigerators. “This design, layout, and equipment is better than what you would find in a commercial kitchen,” Scheuerman said.

When each 20-person class enters the ACHS Culinary Arts kitchen, Scheuerman first reviews the recipe for the day with the students (it was beef quesadillas when the Zebra visited). The class then breaks into teams of 3-4, working at one of six tables. They receive constant instruction, instant feedback, and ongoing critique from Scheuerman. Before the period ends and they leave for their next class, each student tastes that day’s efforts.

Some of the more mouth-watering dishes, many of which are chronicled by Scheuerman on Instagram (under the handle chefcraig_achs), X (under the handle ACHSChefCraig), and other social media sites, include Chicken & Italian Sausage Phyllo Purses on a Cajun Tomato Coulis, Sesame Lemon Soy Baked Salmon with a Toasted Lemony Basil Vegetable Couscous, Shrimp Vegetable Egg-rolls, Buffalo Chicken Bowtie Pasta Salad, Puff Pastry Apple Turnovers, and an array of cakes that would look at home at any fine dining restaurant.

Last year, over 250 students applied for one of 60 spots in the popular Introduction to Culinary Arts class, which covers the fundamentals of working in a kitchen, including sanitation, equipment, ingredients, and measurements, as well as basic cooking skills, baking, kitchen safety, catering, table service, and menu planning. Students also acquire business skills for successful employment and develop and experience personal growth through goal-setting and career development activities.

Creole chicken with andouille sausage, celery, bell pepper, onions and tomatoes on top of long-grain rice (photo courtesy of ACPS Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Craig Scheuerman)

The advanced Culinary Arts II class provides instructions in classical cooking methods (broiling, sautéing, deep fat frying, steaming, poaching, and roasting) and preparation of special dishes, ethnic and regional cuisines, soups, sauces, and salads. Students also receive instruction in basic baking of yeast dough products, pastry, and simple cake decorating.

Students who complete the Culinary Arts II class can take the ServSafe Food Safety industry certification test. Scheuerman said that 80 percent of the ACHS Culinary Arts II students passed the certification last year, which was developed by the National Restaurant Association and certifies to a potential employer that the certificate holder is qualified to handle food in a sanitary way. Scheuerman said one of his students received a significant raise at her Ben & Jerry’s position after attaining the certification because she was now the designated food safety person.

Shrimp vegetable egg-rolls (photo courtesy of ACPS Culinary Arts Instructor Chef Craig Scheuerman)

Scheuerman shared that, while some of his former students over his almost two decades at ACHS have gone on to careers in the restaurant and food service industry, including as a pastry chef and private catering/banquet work, he is just as proud of the many students who left his class having learned how to listen to directions, work in a team, and manage their time. These are skills that will serve them well for the remainder of their lives, whether spent in the kitchen or another business environment.

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