Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner visited many schools in the Southland to get a firsthand view of students and faculty returning to classrooms on Tuesday, Aug.14. But he had a specific stop to make for his lunch break: San Fernando High School, which boasts one of the best student culinary programs in the district.
The superintendent — who also visited Vanalden Elementary School in Reseda on Tuesday — and his guests were feted by a mixture of current culinary students and alumni who spent two days prepping and creating the menu of Caesar Chicken club sandwiches, a Farro salad that included tomato, celery, onion shallots and carrots, and French macaroon cookies topped by “Tiger Paws” made of chocolate.
The project was “a little nerve-wracking” for second-year culinary students Lizette Araujo and George Peraza, both seniors, who greeted Beutner in the front of the school before entering the program’s classroom where four tables were set up for the lunch. But they were confident the team had done “a really good job” in the meal’s preparation and presentation.
Araujo and Peraza, are among the 130 students in the school’s culinary program. They said they are also working part-time jobs after school, and want to have careers in the food industry.
“I knew [San Fernando High] had a culinary program and I wanted to be in it,” said Peraza, 17, who spends weekends working at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica. “I had to, like, fight my way into the class as a junior. Everyone wants to be in it, and there’s a limit. And then I found out about C-CAP (the Careers through Culinary Arts Program that offers scholarships, training and jobs), which is pretty cool.”
Araujo, 17, has a paid internship at the Jar Restaurant in Beverly Hills. She was already in the program before Peraza got in, and “the more involved I got, it was more amazing. I found my actual love and passion. I really want to be in this industry.”
During his 50-minute visit, Beutner — a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and publisher of the Los Angeles Times who was named district superintendent in May — toured the kitchen and listened to a detailed explanation of the meal’s preparation. He helped fill plates with sandwiches and salad.
He then sat down and ate lunch with several students. Afterward he told the assembled room that he had worked briefly in a restaurant, “and those learned skills, including problem-solving and working with a team, are things that can serve everybody.”
Instructor Tina Hartounian — an English teacher before helping to revive the student culinary program here four years ago — said the current and former students who presented the meal had been working on the project since July.
“Everyone was ‘in charge,’” Hartounian said. “I purchased the ingredients but they cooked everything. That’s what we’re about, that ownership.
“This is a snapshot into who we are. I told the students we would prepare and we would be ready. But this isn’t ‘putting on a show.’ We wanted to show them who we are, the heart of who we are.”
Others attending and enjoying the lunch included local Northeast District Superintendent Linda Del Cueto, LAUSD board members Monica Garcia, Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin, and San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin.