Kingman Middle School now offers a culinary arts course, and there is a waiting list

Photo by Aaron Ricca.

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Top: KMS Culinary Arts teacher Jamie Tapley next to a spice rack badly in need of more spices. Above: The culinary arts class listens to teacher Jamie Tapley explain the history of potatoes. Monday’s and Wednesday’s are reserved for research and book learning. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s are cooking days.

Kingman High School has been at it for years, and now Kingman Middle School is joining in on the culinary experience.

Beginning this semester, KMS began teaching kids to cook. Under the guidance of culinary arts teacher and former chef Jamie Tapley, more than 80 sixth through eighth grade students will leave the nine-week course knowing how to cook something more than Hot Pockets and microwave burritos.

“I have a waiting list,” Tapley said. “The kids are excited. So are the parents. The classroom was packed during parents’ night.”

The class will introduce kids to basic kitchen skills such as food safety, sanitation, nutrition and the use of cooking utensils that will be useful in both the professional world and the home. They practiced with knives and picked up some chopping skills on Tuesday.

What used to be a home economics classroom and storage den has been turned into six kitchens complete with new stoves, exhaust hood, sinks and prep tables. Also included are closets and cabinets for pots, pans, cooking utensils, aprons, hairnets and cooking ingredients.

“We’re starting from the ground up,” Tapley said. “By next year I’d like to see an advanced culinary class and possibly a cooking club.”

Aside from the new equipment purchased through a tiny portion of Kingman Unified School District’s budget, there is one microwave in the classroom – for display purposes only.

“They don’t touch it,” Tapley said.

On the first day of class, she asked her students how many eat “from a box, microwave or freezer.” Almost every kid’s hand went up. With the changing demographics of family make-up, parental work patterns and hectic school and activity schedules, children often have resort to frozen and processed food.

“A lot of these kids’ parents leave them to fend for themselves,” Tapley said. “This will give them a way to take care of themselves.”

She asked the kids what they already knew – if they knew – how to cook.

“There was a lot of ramen, Kraft macaroni and cheese and prepared and frozen foods,” Tapley said.

The students were learning the history and cultural significance of potatoes during a visit to the class Wednesday. On Thursday, they made an assortment of mashed and fried potatoes.

“My dad said after I learn how to make them, I have to make them for him at home,” said seventh-grader Charlie Wisely.

The students will learn to make breakfast foods and lunches such as homemade chicken strips and burritos. Everything they make will be from fresh ingredients and Tapley would like the final exam to be a “Chopped”-like impromptu cook-off.

“I love to teach and I love to cook,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see that lightbulb moment when they’re able to make something themselves.”

The student’s previous kitchen experience varied.

Seventh grader Michael Smith said he eats a lot of Hot Pockets and frozen burritos at home. He wanted to take physical education, but was rerouted to cooking when the gym class filled up. That didn’t quell his interest in cooking.

“I want to learn to make pancakes,” Smith said.

Stephanie McCoo said everyone in her family has some culinary talent. Her mom works at Chili’s and her grandfather makes cheese from scratch. The family members often pitch in for meals.

“Each of us kids gets to cook something different,” McCoo said.

Some students were ahead of the curve.

“I’ll make sandwiches, eggs, omelets and toast,” said Jason Moll, of what he creates at home.

Funding for the class is scant, and Tapley welcomes donations of food and equipment. To avoid allergies or violating religious taboos, no shellfish, pork or peanuts are used.

“I want this to be all inclusive,” she said.

The class is part of KUSD’s Career and Technical Education program which includes classes such as welding, robotics and agriculture. Tapley hopes many of the students stick with the culinary program all the way through high school. Kingman High School has had a cooking class for at least 25 years, according to KUSD Food Services Director and former culinary arts teacher Alex Mayo.

“CTE classes are a true gift to public schools. It gives students opportunities to think outside of the general education box,” he said. “The more real life experiences, especially workplace experiences, we give students, the more options they will have, and then be more likely to be successful past their KUSD education experience.”

KMS Principal Don Burton agrees.

“We’re trying to improve the CTE classes so we can connect with the high school programs,” he said.

Tapley can stand the heat, will stay in the kitchen and hopes the culinary program takes off.

“This will give students the confidence to cook for the family and friends,” she said. “If they can make it here, they can make it at home.”