KANKAKEE — With his classmates gathered around, Kane Crecy led his crew. They had to make a peach cobbler. And they were on a deadline.
Thanks to a recent renovation at Kankakee High School, they had commercial-grade kitchenware to use. They finished the dessert before spring break.
This semester has been an eye-opener for Crecy. The KHS senior will attend Joliet Junior College this fall to get an associate degree as a chef. After that, he plans on studying food management at Purdue University.
His ultimate goal is to open his own restaurant. And it is all beginning at the high school’s revamped culinary lab, which features all the high-tech kitchen equipment Crecy will use in the real world.
“Nowadays, if you go into a restaurant and look into the kitchen, you see all this technical kitchenware,” Crecy said. “You want to get used to this so that if you become a chef, you already know how everything works.”
Kankakee School District 111 revamped the culinary lab as part of a $29.8 million federal loan that virtually rebuilt the high school and covered upgrades at other schools.
Diane Morris, the high school’s foods teacher, modeled the culinary lab to align with Joliet Junior College’s cooking program. She also took some pointers from Crystal Lake South High School.
The objective was to create a culinary lab that would prepare students for food service jobs 30 years into the future.
“It’s uncommon for a high school to have a cooking lab like this,” Morris said. “The old foods lab had six individual, residential-type kitchens. This is all industrial. This is what all of our students will see when they go out to work in a food service industry, whether it is a nursing home, a hospital, a fast food restaurant or fine dining.”
Through the lab, Morris teaches students about serve-safety practices, nutrition and how to cook. Students have made various dishes, from stir fry to desserts. They even cooked breakfast for faculty members before spring break.
Morris’ classes consist of students of various backgrounds, such as Chase LaRoche, a senior who plans on enlisting in the Navy. LaRoche took the foods class rather than another gym class.
“No matter what, it’s a good skill to know how to cook,” said LaRoche, who often cooks for relatives. “Eventually, we are going to be living on our own. If you can’t cook, then the next healthiest option is going out to eat. You don’t want to go out to eat every night if you can save money and cook by yourself.”
In Crecy’s case, the lab is helping him fulfill a passion that has been growing ever since he started eating his father’s meals.
“I’ve always had a dream of becoming a chef and making my own food,” Crecy said. “Coming here, it is teaching me different types of recipes, how to eat properly, how to properly use flour, how to properly use the stove. It helps me so that when I open my own business, I already know how to pass that knowledge on to others.”