My Mom’s Culinary Arts Program and Chocolate Cake

I’ve been meaning to tell you about the very cool Culinary Arts High School Program my mom runs at Central Campus in Des Moines, Iowa for awhile now, and I figured this would be the perfect opportunity since I won’t be cooking up any recipes to share while we’re on vacation!

This is the sixth year my mom has taught the program and I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of all the cooking experience her students get – they are truly ready to tackle culinary school or directly enter a restaurant upon graduation. In fact, students that complete both years of the program receive 33 college credits at the Des Moines Area Community College (and enter as sophomores if they choose to attend after graduation) and many of these credits transfer to other culinary schools as well.

Students commute from their high schools to attend Culinary 1 and 2 classes for 3 to 3 1/2 hours a day. During the first year they learn basic cooking skills and are servers at the Central Campus Café and during their second year they expand upon their basic skills and do all the cooking for the café, where the menu always includes two kinds of soup, side salads, several kinds of sandwiches, a daily special, and a few desserts. And the prices are right – a daily special of a grilled chicken breast, rice pilaf, green beans, a homemade roll, and your choice of a soup, salad or dessert is just $5.25! My very favorite thing on the menu is my mom’s chocolate cake, which is also my go-to chocolate cake recipe (and is shared below!). They serve 40 to 80 people a day and all the proceeds go back into the program – for ingredients or trips to competitions!

Yes, that’s right, the students also get to battle it out at Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and Skills USA culinary competitions for scholarships! For FCCLA, a three person team has one hour to prepare a three course meal. My mom’s students rocked this year’s menu of corn chowder, Maxwell Street-Style pork chops with Roesti potatoes, and a lemon tart with Chantilly cream, became state champions, and will be attending nationals in July! At Skills USA individuals compete in the culinary arts, commercial baking, or food and beverage service categories. This year the students found out the menu at the competition and had three hours to whip up a Waldorf salad, beef stroganoff, and broccoli with Hollandaise sauce for culinary competition and dinner rolls, coffee cake, cream puffs, and a decorated cake for baking section. For the food and beverage service competition, students are given a menu and have to set up a table and serve food and beverages to the judges. My mom’s students placed in all of these categories this year and will be heading to nationals in June, where the winners get a full ride to the culinary school of their choice! As you can see, this is a really valuable program for those high school students that know they want to pursue a culinary career.

And of course I have to finish up by bragging a bit about my mom. She was recently selected as the Des Moines Rotary Teacher of the Year and received the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart Educator Excellence Award. And these accolades are very well deserved. She is always working with her students on the weekends and over the summer to make sure they all graduate and do well at competitions – her dedication is truly inspiring.

If you live in Iowa and would like to support her program, you can visit their café, which is open from 10:55am to 12:30pm most Wednesdays and Thursdays from October through May (the menu and directions to the school are posted here). And they are always looking for local chefs to mentor students for competitions, perform demonstrations, donate expensive ingredients, and provide internships.

And as promised, here’s my mom’s chocolate cake recipe that they serve at the cafe. I’ve been completely spoiled by this recipe and can’t order chocolate cake at restaurants anymore because I’m always disappointed – this version beats them all!

My Mom’s Chocolate Cake
Printable Recipe


Chocolate Cake:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cold coffee (use regular strength coffee and nothing too strong like Starbucks!)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting:
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
6 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
6 ounces butter (12 tablespoons), at room temperature


For the cake, heat oven to 350˚F. Grease two 9-inch round cakes and line with parchment paper. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together into the bowl of a mixer. Mix buttermilk, coffee, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until well combined. Add liquids to dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl and mix again briefly. Add cake batter evenly to prepared pans and bake at 350˚F for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes and remove cakes from the pans. Remove parchment paper and cool completely. Cakes can be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and frozen in the freezer until needed, if desired.

For the frosting, add vanilla to the milk and set aside. Sift powdered sugar and cocoa together in a large bowl. Beat butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar/cocoa mixture to the butter, then part of the milk mixture, alternating until the ingredients are well mixed. If the frosting is too thick, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time to thin it out, mixing well after each addition until desired consistency is reached.

To assemble the cake, spread 1/4 of the frosting on top of one cake layer. Place other cake layer on top and use remaining frosting to cover and decorate the cake.

p.s.  My mom has requested I skip the nutrition stats for this one and I agree!

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46 Responses to My Mom’s Culinary Arts Program and Chocolate Cake

  1. Lauren says:

    So very neat! I had no idea your mom headed a culinary program – it sounds like a fantastic opportunity for the students. Oh, and the chocolate cake looks divine :).

    Have a wonderful vacation!

  2. CaSaundra says:

    Very cool–I wish our highschool would have had something besides the basic home ec like that. Good for your mom!

  3. Cara says:

    Sounds like a great program and that’s so nice that you and your mom share a love of cooking. I bet you both learn a lot from each other! Hope you have an awesome vacation. We’re taking off in just a couple hours!

  4. This is so cool! I wish they would have a program like this when my daughter gets into high school (11 years from now :))

  5. Anna says:

    Wow, that is so cool! I often wonder where I’d be in life if I’d started a culinary career in high school. That cake looks delicious. I’ve been making a lot of simple chocolate cakes lately, but I don’t think I’ve tried this one. I guess with the smaller amount of cocoa, you can really taste the buttermilk and coffee flavors.

  6. Joanne says:

    Your mom sounds totally awesome! Then again, I’m not surprised…like daughter, like mother.

    I wish my high school had had a program like this. Although in reality, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it at the time since I could barely boil water then!

    That cake – amazing!

  7. dani says:

    i am so jealous if this program! if i had had something like this in HS my life would have turned in a whole new direction. wish my students had opportunities like this :)

    congrats to your mamma too!!!

  8. Shannon says:

    wow, not only does that sound like a fantastic program, but what a mom you have :) congrats on her achievement!! fabulous chocolate cake, too!

  9. Mary says:

    What an awesome program! That chocolate cake looks so delicious!

    Delightful Bitefuls

  10. grace says:

    wow, congrats to your momster–that’s quite an achievement! that’s also quite a luscious slab of cake–thanks for the recipe. :)

  11. Erica says:

    WOW! What a cool program. I wish my high school offered something like that. I’m sure the kids all love your mom and that droolworthy cake! Enjoy the vaca ;)

  12. amanda says:

    you mom’s program sounds amazing!! i love that schools are recognizing the need to branch out and offer programs for students not geared toward four year colleges and sports programs!!

    i have a couple of questions…how does this recipe work for cupcakes? i usually make them instead of full cakes, i like the size and convience of a cupcake. also, how important it the coffee? i don’t drink coffee, and would not know how to make it if i tried! if strong coffee like starbucks is not recommended, would instant coffee work?

  13. vanillasugar says:

    nothing like the perfect choco cake right? i’m the exact same way when it comes to cheeseburgers. we just can’t order cheeseburgers out because they just never stack up to mine.
    always wished i went to culinary school….

  14. Nicole, RD says:

    Haha, I love that she asked you to skip the nutrition stats! It looks SO good! I now know why you’re such a master mind in the kitchen! You’ve got a great tutor!! :)

  15. Elina says:

    Haha, I didn’t think this was great nutritionally. ;)
    The program sounds amazing and I definitely wouldn’t mind a slice of that cake!

  16. ha sometimes it’s better to just ignore those nutrition stats–denial is best :)

    what a need program though–thanks for sharing!

  17. Lucie says:

    So awesome–that is such a great way to open the eyes of high schoolers to new things!

  18. Reeni says:

    What a fantastic program! I would of loved to have something like this in high school. Your Mom is a gem and her chocolate cake looks totally irresistible!

  19. I’m jealous too! Although it would’ve gone wasted, as I don’t think I had any desire to cook at that point. Congrats to your mom, and I’m so bookmarking that chocolate cake recipe! xxSAS

  20. Your mom’s program sounds terrific and the chocolate cake is awesome!

  21. L'Chicken says:

    Congrats to your mom! What a fantastic program…and tasty too. It’s clear that a culinary glow radiates through your family. :-)

  22. Meghan says:

    Oh my I can’t wait to try this cake!!! Your mom’s program looks amazing! Congratulations to her on her awards!

  23. terri says:

    kudos to your mom kerstin for running such an awesome school. thats so cool. the chocolate cake looks way amazing. i am salivating over the computer right now! :o)

  24. yasmeen says:

    Admire your mom’s talent ,the school is such great start for chef wanabes.Love the cake :D

  25. Katrina says:

    What a great program those kids get to participate in! Your mom sounds awesome.
    And the cake looks great!

  26. Blond Duck says:

    Do they do all that from memory or can they carry recipes with them?

  27. Kelly says:

    That’s so incredibly cool. I’ve often thought about going to culinary school but have stopped because I never quite had enough focus about what I would do with it. However, I think doing something like this sounds like an amazing way to put it to use! These kids sound like they have a great experience and learn a lot. Kudos to them for their wins as well.

  28. What a great program, and congratulations to your Mom! The chocolate cake looks amazing. I can see why other cakes can’t compare.

  29. ingrid says:

    That’s so cool! I’d like to attend. Congrats to your mom!

  30. My mom really enjoyed reading all your comments :)

    Amanda – My mom sent me an email with the answers to your questions!

    You can make cupcakes. Just line the muffin pan with papers. Fill 2/3 full and bake for 18 – 20 minutes. You don’t need as much frosting for cupcakes because you are not frosting the sides so you can cut the recipe in half.

    The coffee brings out the chocolate flavor. You do not taste it in the cake. Instant coffee will work or water is ok, but it won’t taste as rich.

  31. Sophie says:

    You do your mom proud!!

    What a great cookery school teacher she is!!
    Her students look that they are enjoying it a lot & that chocolate cake recipe of your mom’s is looking lovely & very tasty!

  32. Monica H says:

    Thanks for not sharing the nutrition facts. i can feelless guilty when I make and eat it all :-)

    Congrats to your mom. I just think that’s so cool. And I think that’s such a great progam.

  33. Your mom sounds amazing and i’m now so jealous o0f that program! :)
    Tia @ buttercreambarbie

  34. Ha! I like how you skipped the nutritional info. Yeah, chocolate cake like that is definitely a splurge!

    That’s so cool what your Mom does for a living and congrats to her on her awards!

    I wouldn’t mind going to work if I had that kind of job!

  35. Tori Stodden says:

    I love this cake and all the good things we do at central. Thanks for showcasing us!

  36. Elaine….Congratulations on the Teacher of the Year Award! I am going to tempt your chocolate cake to take to a 4th of July party! See you in the Fall!! Heidi p.s. enjoy your daughter’s blog so much!!

  37. Anne says:

    Your mom’s chocolate cake recipe looks delicious – I’m excited to try it. I’m actually from a Des Moines suburb and teach at one of the schools that sends some of our students to Central Campus. The cafe they run is a big deal. I came upon your blog by accident (I was looking for dessert recipes on the Nest). Congratulations to your mom and her students – tell her to keep up the good work!

  38. Cat says:

    I tried this recipe and it was absolutely delicious! I have made it twice, since the first time was such a big hit! This version truly does beat them all!! :)

  39. Cat – Yay, so glad you enjoyed it! :)

  40. Tracey says:

    I live in Des Moines and will check the cafe out! I wish my school had a program such as this!

    the cake looks delicious!!

  41. [...] another one with my mom when she visits next year. Speaking of my mom, when I told their team about my mom’s culinary arts program, they offered to work on setting up a baking demo and/or send her some free baking ingredients, how [...]

  42. angelique says:

    I love love love the chocolate cake recipe, but ever since I moved to tropical weather(honduras) I can not get it to come out right. The air is really moist here and I don’t have AC. Its kinda like cooking outside. Heehee. Anyway, the cake acts very odd. Im not sure how to describe it. It dips down in the middle and when I made it as cupcakes it had a dip in the middle and cooked out onto the pan, like a flattop. Please help! I love this recipe and don’t wanna give up on it.
    Thank you!

  43. Hi Angelique,

    I checked with my mom and she said that you either need to add a little more flour or take out some of the coffee. She thinks there is too much moisture in the air so some of the “water” is not baking out of the cake.

    Hopefully this helps! :)

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