Award-winning culinary program brings students to Blythewood

Students prepare gourmet meals at Blythewood High School
Students prepare gourmet meals at Blythewood High School

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Inside the walls of Blythewood High School, you'll find what looks and smells like the kitchen of a five star restaurant.

Stay long enough and you'll discover this kitchen serves as a training ground for students pursuing culinary excellence.

"Good Morning Class," says Chef William Turner. His students quickly reply—"Good morning, Chef!"  Turner doesn't waste any time before jumping into a demonstration of the daily lesson, "Today we're going to make a classic low country dish called shrimp and grits."

Chef Turner has served as the instructor for Blythewood's Culinary Arts program since it began in conjunction with the opening of the school in 2005.

"Things have to be very organized," says Turner. "We're only in here 90 minutes… so they have to listen, watch, and we go into production."

The students know time is crucial and don't take a moment in class for granted. "It's such a limited amount of people who can get into the program (that) to be involved is a great opportunity," says sophomore student, Remi Jeffries.

The program's award winning reputation has inspired some families to move to Blythewood so their students are districted into the high school. The culinary students were crowned state champions in 2010 and went on to place 14th in the nation.

"You name it, we learn how to make it from scratch," says Chef Turner. "The students learn these skills and are able to take them and work as a team and apply them in a real world situation."

Students like senior Christopher Reynolds are already doing just that. Reynolds says his experience in the program helped him earn a job as a sous chef at a local restaurant. "We actually kind of moved to this area for the program and we feel that it was a good move," says Reynolds.

Jeffries says while she loves to cook, she's in the program because she has dreams of becoming a dietician or a physical therapist. "I've learned great team work skills" says Jeffries. "It's about the team making a success, not yourself."

Students work in teams each class to prepare their given assignment and when it's done, they get to eat it.

"Everybody else in the school has to go down to the cafeteria and get some pizza or some tater tots, and we have some shrimp and grits," said Reynolds. "One day we did bacon wrapped filets-- we always end up a little better off than everyone else."

"The hook is that they want to eat, but we want to give them more than that," says Chef Turner. "We want to give them some instruction and skills that will move them on to their future."

The three year program eventually aims to serve each student's future with a side of success.

The program is based off of a curriculum called Pro-Start through the National Restaurant Association in Chicago.

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