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High school students will learn the culinary arts at John McDonogh’s new academy

Eating is a way of life in New Orleans and locals know from an early age that Cajun food isn’t the same as Creole food, homemade roux makes the best gumbo and snowballs aren’t hurled at younger brothers during winter—they’re ideal with condensed milk on top. These important lessons are taught from infancy, but it takes a village to educate students about the more intricate details of New Orleans’ food service industry. That’s where the Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation comes in.

In mid-December, the LRAEF was proud to announce that John McDonogh High School will launch a culinary academy—the first of its kind in Louisiana for high school students—beginning in 2011.

It will be an expansion of the LRAEF’s successful ProStart program, a two-year culinary management program designed to teach students culinary techniques and restaurant management skills, already being offered at John McDonogh and 48 other high schools across the state.

Louisiana is a living laboratory for culinary students who can take what they’ve learned from ProStart and apply it in a myriad of professions within the restaurant industry. Want to cook? Create innovative dishes as a top chef. Want to go law school? Be the general counsel for a restaurant group. Got your public relations degree? Put it to use by promoting restaurants through new social media outlets and beyond. The choices are endless and the possibilities are limitless.

According to LRAEF Executive Director Pam St. Pierre, the culinary academy at John McDonogh wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance and vision from restaurant industry leader and 2011 LRA chair Tommy Cvitanovich, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas and John McDonogh ProStart educator Valerie Ward-Yates. They have worked for more than a year on providing students with a first-class, four-year culinary education in one of the country’s most important culinary cities.

“The plan initially was to build a brand-new commercial kitchen at John McDonogh for its existing ProStart program,” said St. Pierre. “But after many conversations with the RSD and John McDonogh and the tireless involvement of Coach Phelps, who was introduced to the project through Tommy, we knew that an actual culinary academy, where students could be immersed in all aspects of the restaurant industry throughout their high school experience, could be a game changer.”

John McDonogh High School is just steps from the French Quarter, which will provide students with hundreds of easily accessible internship opportunities. This culinary program will no doubt produce New Orleans’ next generation of chefs, restaurateurs and food service professionals.

A press conference was held to officially launch the project. Guest speakers included Coach Phelps, RSD Deputy Superintendent Kevin J. Guitterrez, former LRA president and CEO Jim Funk and ProStart students who will benefit from the new program. Also in attendance was Leah Chase of Dooky Chase in New Orleans who offered inspirational words of advice to the aspiring culinarians.