With an array of labs and classrooms and two public restaurants, this culinary arts program gives students opportunities to learn cooking skills on state-of-the-art equipment they'll find when working in the foodservice industry.
In 1999 the School of Culinary Arts (SCA) opened on Francis Tuttle Technology Center's Rockwell campus. Part of the Career and Technology family of schools within the center, Francis Tuttle Tech — along with 28 other career and technical school districts — offers training in job skills. Together the districts offer classes to 39,000 junior and high school students across the state of Oklahoma. Francis Tuttle is District 21.
In response to a local demand for quality cooks and identification of culinary arts and medical jobs as primary growth areas in Oklahoma and the United States, the center's board of directors decided to expand the SCA. In 2012 the school moved into a new 45,000-square-foot building housing 10 teaching kitchens (skills 1, skills 2, baking, pastry with a chocolate room, garde manger, meat and fish with a salumi room), Tut's Café, an à la carte restaurant named District 21, demo lab with video production capabilities and outdoor cooking kitchen.
This semester, the not-for-profit SCA enrolled 128 students who, for the next 2 years, will spend half their school day at SCA and the other half at their regular school. Adults can also take advantage of this educational opportunity in the form of a 15-month program that meets 5 nights a week from 4 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at a cost of $3,000, which includes supplies. Graduates earn certificates and develop skills that allow them to seek culinary positions above the entry level in hotels, restaurants, institutions and resorts. The SCA also conducts regional training for businesses on-site and at off-site
"Our goal is to be the leader in our region for culinary arts training in long-term programs, short-term programs and professional development," says Marc Dunham, director of the SCA. Dunham arrived at SCA four years ago, with a background that includes working as a chef at top-rated New York restaurants and as the executive chef and food and beverage director at the Atherton Hotel on the Oklahoma State University's campus.
"The facility was built on the promise to deliver high-quality instruction from the industry's leading instructors while keeping the costs affordable," Dunham says. "We believe this is a system unique to our state and will serve as a model for others to follow. Visitors from all over the world come to see what we're doing here. No longer will people in Oklahoma have to travel 2,000 miles to get culinary training, and we'll push the entire food scene forward in this state."
The SCA expansion project took 18 months to complete. "Four of the teaching kitchens were opened immediately, and two more, six months later," Dunham says. Today ten kitchens are open, including teaching labs, an à la carte restaurant, a café and a demo kitchen.
"Time and budget were challenges," says Chris Cleburn, project architect at Bockus Payne Associates Architects. "We issued early bid packages to jump on construction, and we delayed build-out of several kitchens."
In order to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment for Francis Tuttle, SCA sits in the center of campus and connects to three other buildings. "To connect the three buildings, we created a Main Street corridor on the south side of the new building. This corridor connected the original Campus Center and the Construction Trades buildings. A smaller corridor to the north connected the third, smaller building and separated the culinary functions from the IT department functions."
The two skills kitchens feature a quartet of four-station cooking suites and an instructor's station. Students have their own prep and cooking areas with overhead utensil racks to facilitate learning. Refrigerators and freezers are dispersed throughout the cooking spaces.
The pastry and bakery kitchens include a 60-quart mixer, dough divider/rounder, dough sheeter, roll-in rotary rack oven, a double-deck convection oven and a pair of 6-burner ranges. A chocolate room in the pastry kitchen features stainless steel work counters, granite top work counters and a 20-quart-mixer.
In the curing/salumi room in the meat and fish kitchen students learn to make everything from salumi, salami, hams and chorizo. Many of the products created by staff chefs and students here and in the other labs are available in Cravings, a retail store that features artisan products such as cheeses, cured meats, olives, mustard, bread, gourmet mayonnaise, vinegars, spices, dried herbs, sauces, preserves and jams; a butcher counter offering steaks and meats; grab-and-go items such as sandwiches, salads and pizza; pastries and desserts; and coffee and beverages.
The operation's showpiece is District 21, a full-service restaurant with an exhibition kitchen, a bar and striking dining room with a copper-stamped chef's table near the kitchen. Named for its school district, District 21 features end-grain wood flooring, a rotating wood-panel wall, translucent resin panels embedded with recycled glass, and a copper-clad partition around a chef's table where customers can dine close to the exhibition kitchen. Similar to other kitchens at SCA, interior elements include quarry tile, terrazzo floors in corridors and storage areas, large-format ceramic tile and stainless steel.
Culinary staff design the restaurant's menu for teaching purposes and to please the 200 customers they serve each week. Culinary staff serve beef, pork, poultry and vegetables daily. Preparations emphasize the ingredients students learn to prepare one by one until they master each, a process that helps them retain each lesson. The restaurant and bar menus feature small plates such as spinach dip, freignette salad (with Dungeness crab, bacon cocktail sauce and mustard aioli), Caesar salad and spinach salad. The restaurant features entrées, salads and a dessert menu with chocolate cake, crème brûlée, cobbler and other pastries primarily made in the pastry and baking classes.
Staff prepare the menu using 60-quart and 20-quart mixers, worktables with overshelves, a baker's table, portable ingredient bins, a combi oven, a 4-burner range with an oven beneath and 40-quart tilt kettles. On the front line, staff use two fryers with a dump station, an upright broiler, a charbroiler, two six-burner ranges with ovens, a steamer, an open-hearth oven and a rapid-cook oven.
To the right of the cooklines, a prep area contains soup wells, heated drawers, a cutting board, a wait station with a sink, shelves, an undercounter refrigerator, a coffee maker, cup and glass racks, an ice cream dipping cabinet, a drop-in dipperwell and another worktable. A station for plating and pickup stands in front of the cooklines; there staff pick up orders to deliver to customers.
In the bar, students prepare local beverages (all are nonalcoholic drinks due to the fact the students are underage). Customers can order small plates such as charcuterie and seasonal foods as well.
Students, faculty and staff run Tut's Café, a retail scramble-style cafeteria with a supporting back-of-house kitchen. Tut's Café serves fountain drinks, iced tea, bottled drinks, coffee and pastry as well as breakfast eggs and pancakes from the plancha, plates from the grill, grab-and-go soups, baked potatoes, sandwiches, a salad bar and pizza.
The SCA's sustainable features include demand-driven exhaust systems, which ramp the exhaust up and down based on the cooking load under the hoods. "This allows the makeup air systems to condition less air if the exhaust systems are only full on or off," says Cleburn.
SCA also contains scrap collectors that collect food scraps instead of grinding the food and sending it down the drain like disposers. "The scraps are dumped and taken to the composting room where the food is ground and put in a composter that dehydrates the scraps into a high-calorie soil additive," Cleburn says. "This reduced the food waste being sent down the sanitary sewer system."
As SCA continues to grow, more students will be exposed to the expertise of the instructors and the support of the equipment. These students will undoubtedly be a significant support to the growth of the hospitality industry not only in Oklahoma but all over the country as students follow their passion and venture into new territory.