Kids in the kitchen takes on a whole new meaning at Taste Of Liberty, a restaurant managed by students at Liberty Technical High School (LTHS) in Jackson. Taste of Liberty is a division of the Culinary Arts program at the school that has been offered since LTHS opened its doors in 2003. The program has also seen recent growth in its Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses it now offers.
“The program was created to be a part of the overall vision for Liberty Tech,” said Culinary Instructor Leslie Emerson. “The vision was for a state-of-the-art high school where students could receive strong academics and, at the same time, have the opportunity to acquire advanced technical skills.”
LTHS offers three levels of Culinary Arts:
• Culinary I – for freshman, which equips students with the foundational knowledge and skills to pursue careers in the culinary field.
• Culinary II – for sophomores, which is an applied- knowledge course.
• Culinary III – for juniors, which is an advanced course intended to further equip students for a career in the food service industry.
• Work-Based Learning – for seniors, which was added this school year.
“The Work-Based Learning: Career Practicum is a capstone course intended to provide students with opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge learned in previous CTE and general education courses within a professional work environment,” said Emerson. “The course allows students to earn high school credit for select models of work-based learning. Students are able to interact with industry professionals in order to extend and deepen classroom work and support the development of postsecondary and career readiness knowledge and skills.”
Emerson continued to share that once students complete the practicum, they will be prepared for postsecondary and career opportunities aligned with their interests and be able to demonstrate professional, quality and employable skills relevant to their chosen career paths.
“Standards in this course are designed to reinforce Tennessee State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in Technical Subjects and Tennessee State Standards in Mathematics,” said Emerson.
The program collaborates with other academic and career and technical classes at LTHS, like purchasing its vegetables from the “award winning” agriculture department at the school.
Students follow the program that begins with Culinary I, which is a one semester course. They continue through Culinary II and Culinary III courses, which are one year courses each. Through working at Taste of Liberty, students are able to acquire hands-on experience while applying what they have learned in their basic courses like English, math and science.
“Preparing recipes demands knowledge of math in order to measure, figure portions and calculate costs. Cooking is nothing if not a chemistry project where you put different ingredients together that lose their individual properties to become a delicious new compound. As wait staff, students apply the grammar rules they learn in English and use them to be effective communicators,” said Emerson. ‘In addition to these academic skills, they learn the soft skills that often do not get taught in a regular classroom setting. They learn cooperation, professionalism and the importance of being a productive member of a team. They also learn the satisfaction that comes from producing a superior product when they put in the extra time and effort.”
At Taste of Liberty, students are involved in all aspects of the restaurant business. By the time they complete the program, they have a number of the skills required to manage a restaurant.
“Our students learn hands-on culinary skills that range from knife use and care, cutting skills, baking, cooking methods, seasoning, customer service, team work, restaurant careers and responsibilities, menu planning, recipe conversion and desserts to plating a dish and portion size,” said Emerson. “It is our role to teach the students the culinary basics and prepare them for a food service career or culinary college. We are part of SkillsUSA, which is a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO).”
Students who join SkillsUSA compete against their culinary peers for the opportunity to attend the state culinary competition, where they compete against top students for scholarships. Several students who have completed the culinary program have gone on to careers in the food service industry. Some of the current LTHS students in the program also work in food service.
“We have at least two students who have gone to college for this profession in the last three years,” said Emerson. “We teach the students the culinary basics; help them achieve personal goals, perfect their skills and focus on their passion for culinary.”
Taste of Liberty offers dine-in and carry-out options for its customers. The restaurant is open on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and reservations are not required, but are recommended. Word of mouth of the service and quality of food keeps the 48-seat dining room at capacity on most Wednesdays. The menu, which changes weekly, is available on the LTHS and the Madison County School District websites. You may sign-up to receive e-mail updates of the menu and also follow Taste of Liberty on Twitter.
“We always welcome catering events,” said Emerson. “We have a set menu of items that we are able to cater as well as a price list. Last school year, our students accumulated 235 hours of volunteer work serving school groups and small businesses in the area.”
If you need a suggestion for a lunch destination on Wednesdays, consider dining at Taste of Liberty and supporting the students and the culinary arts.
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