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
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
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!