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Culinary arts students showcase passions, talent
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Luis Parras grates nutmeg at the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program showcase at Gainesville High School Thursday afternoon. Parras is a junior in the introduction to culinary arts class at the school, but he plans on opening a restaurant once he graduates. - photo by HAILEY VAN PARYS

Students like Lizbeth Martinez, Nyquasia Williams and Donna Flores put their hearts and souls into their craft. Part of their passion lies in putting together meals for events, like their school’s Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program’s showcase, which was held Thursday at the school.

All three students are in the culinary arts program at Gainesville High School, headed by District Teacher of the Year Whittney McPherson.

The crew from McPherson’s classes created the lunch and a dessert at the showcase: a Caesar salad, lasagna, baked ziti, chicken tetrazzini lineup with lemonade and sweet tea to drink and  pumpkin cheesecake cups for dessert — all from scratch.

“It was a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Flores said.

The students set up everything they needed on Wednesday and just threw their creations in the oven Thursday morning “so nothing gets messed up,” Martinez said.

Whenever the three girls got compliments on the food they made, they lit up.

“You get a tingly feeling when someone compliments your food,” Williams said.

That feeling pushes them to make sure every last ingredient is perfectly prepared and served safely at the proper temperatures.

“We learn all about food safety, too, in the intro class,” Martinez said. “We know the correct manner to serve, and we have to pass a test.”

Another part of the class is the weekly teacher lunches they prepare, which cost $7 and change every week. They also cater to the needs of vegetarians or teachers with certain allergies. Last week, the menu included international items like penne chicken and curry.

The program also featured 12 other pathways and showcased their skills Thursday. Everything from audio-video technology to construction to marketing and management students put out their best work for members of the community and businesses to admire.

The culinary students respond to McPherson.

“The kids just love her,” Assistant Principal Misty Freeman said. They’ve even come up with nicknames like Mrs. Mac, Chef Mac and even Mama Bear.

“We are around her so much that we just started calling her Mama Bear,” Flores said.

Flores, who is in the Work-Based Learning program and directly works with McPherson on a daily basis in the school’s special industrially equipped cafeteria, especially admires her teacher.

“I want to follow in her footsteps and be a family and consumer science teacher,” Flores said. Flores always had teaching in mind as a future career, but her teacher pushed her in the right direction.

“She made me grow stronger on that idea,” Flores said.

Each day Flores spends third and fourth periods as an intern with McPherson. Martinez and Williams come in for first period, prepping the food for the week.

“I just love to cook,” Williams said.

Baked goods are her specialty. Anything from cookies and brownies to croissants and danishes, she can whip up from scratch. She also practices her craft at home when it isn’t for a grade.

“I wanna have my own bakery one day,” Williams said. “I want it to go international.”

Williams and Martinez also shared their idea for a bakery that incorporates Southern-style pastries with dishes inspired by Martinez’s Hispanic heritage.

“It would be great to have something like that in the community,” Martinez said. “Something that integrates it all together and includes everybody.”

Luis Parras, a student in the introduction to culinary arts class, also has big dreams.

“Everyone wants to open their own restaurant,” he said. “That’s my dream right now.”

Big dreams like these are fostered by McPherson, who inspires them.

“Ever since I started (the class), I’ve known what I want to do with my life,” Flores said.

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