With the start of the new year, Cardinal O'Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda is planning to start an updated program for aspiring chefs. The school is in the process of building a culinary arts room, constructed from a converted classroom, which will allow students who wish to pursue a career in the restaurant or hospitality business a leg up in applying for colleges and culinary schools.
The program is called the Culinary Institute at O'Hara, or CIAO, and it has been in the works for some time, with students having culinary classes in the school for the last couple of years. However, the complete renovation of the room will be adding state-of-the-art equipment in order to ensure students get the most of their Catholic education, according to Renee Orr, director of advancement at O'Hara.
"We've been doing some really good programming with it, but this will just take it to a new level," Orr said. "We have a great instructor named Darren Wells. A few years ago, we realized that a lot of our students have an interest in the culinary arts and the hospitality field, in general. The hospitality field is something that we know is always going to be around. People are always going into it."
Wells and his wife, Jamie, own Sweet Beginnings Bakery, which they started in 2005. The bakery fulfilled a dream of husband and wife, both of whom went to culinary school. Based in Tonawanda, their business includes wedding and other specialty cakes, cookies, pastries and other desserts.
As a result of the growing field, the school looked into a way to give students a hands-on experience while working with the local colleges and businesses that will likely enroll and employ O'Hara students. Since the CIAO program first started, many students in the preliminary CIAO program have gone on to culinary school, including Niagara County Community College's hospitality program and others.
'That was kind of our goal, to say, 'Hey, we know the hospitality field is always up and coming.' We want to give our kids the best ability, especially if that's an interest they have, to prepare them for college and then the workforce," Orr said of the ongoing process.
The room includes an array of appliances, with everything needed to train the new generation of aspiring chefs and bakers. Once it has been completed, the room will feature refrigerators, freezers, stoves and individual workstation, as well as anything else they would need to use in a professional kitchen.
While no completion date is set in stone, the school hopes to have the room finished by January. It is the same room where students previously worked for the CIAO program, and construction has been ongoing. When completed, the state-of-the-art room will give students the best opportunity to learn and grow.
"Some of the students have been working in it up until now," Orr said. "We want them to have every ability to learn, and to be hands-on in what they would do if they were in a professional kitchen.
"We want them to be ready to move directly into the college classes that they're going to take, and be prepared. We want our local restaurants and other venues to be able to hire our students and say, 'Wow, they have a really good foundation at Cardinal O'Hara."