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From kneading award-winning pies to molding future chefs

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From kneading award-winning pies to molding future chefs

Nutrition Services Executive Chef Bryan Ehrenholm is pictured in the spacious kitchen of the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy Café.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 8, 2013 1:03 a.m.

After 15 years as a restaurant owner and American Pie Council Champion many times over, chef Bryan Ehrenholm has gone back to school.

This time, his goal is not to learn but to teach and mold the next batch of, hopefully, the best chefs of the next generation.

When the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy opened with the Culinary Arts program in August 2012, Ehrenholm came on board as a member of the teaching staff. He came to MUVA via Manteca Unified’s Nutrition Services which hired him as executive chef to work with the nearly two-dozen students enrolled in the first certificated program offered by MUVA, the district’s first ever vocational charter academy.

Ehrenholm spends several hours a week with the would-be Paula Deens, Emeril Lagasses or restaurateurs, leading them hands-on and shepherding them through the path that would hopefully lead them to the realization of their dreams in various fields of the food industry.

A significant step toward that goal in the vocational program’s mission took place a week ago with the opening of the Manteca Vocational Academy Café described by Ehrenholm as the culinary arts program’s business model. This apprenticeship-type arm of the curriculum allows the students to learn how to set up a restaurant from the ground up – designing an inviting dining ambience that includes planning the décor and table settings, planning the day’s menu, pricing the various food selections offered along with the drinks, prepping the salads, sandwiches, breads and cookies, and learning the rudiments of customer service. It’s also designed to give the students a foretaste of how it’s like to establish, run, and manage a business.

“The culinary field is a seven-day commitment, especially if you’re the owner (of the business),” Ehrenholf said. When he was running his restaurant on Bangs Avenue in Modesto, for example, where he baked 75,000 pies a year – that’s more than 200 pies a day – he practically worked round the clock – 15 hours a day or more, he said.

The MUVA café, which caters only to school district employees for now, will also provide an opportunity for the students to earn a few dollars. Not all of them will be working all at the same time at the café for which they will be paid. Working hours will be rotated among the members of the class. Tips that they receive from customers will go to a fund that will be used by the entire student body for activities such as field trips and other projects.

“I love the kids. They are very bright,” said Ehrenholm who was voted Best Chef in Modesto in 2010, among the many culinary accolades he has collected through the years. He also shepherded Joshua Cowell Elementary School last year in winning top honors in the national schools’ recipe contest launched by First Lady Michelle Obama. It was this project which introduced him to Nutrition Services Director Patty Page when she was looking for an executive chef to work with the MUVA students.

After achieving success in the private industry, Ehrenholm welcomes this “opportunity to mold” the next generation’s culinary achievers.

“It’s about making a difference for me,” he said of the academic fork-on-the-road where his career has taken him to this point.

“I’ve worked in the business since I was 14. I started as a dishwasher,” Ehrenholm said, recalling how he rose up the ladder to becoming an executive chef and owner of Pure Joy Bakery and The Lunch Pail in Modesto.

Unfortunately, after enjoying success for many years, Ehrenholm was forced to close both businesses due to the economic downturn that affected just about everybody throughout the country. In his letter to his “loyal customers” notifying the public of the decision he made early last year, he wrote that “we are living in extraordinary times and are unable to financially keep this joyous operation afloat.” He added on a high note, “It has been a pleasure serving you and bringing you America’s best pies.”

Ehrenholm, who attended Columbia College and the University of Denver, holds a degree in hotel restaurant management. But the “best training in the world” for anyone dreaming of succeeding in the culinary arts industry, he said, is the hands-on experience one receives in school such as the one being provided by MUVA’s culinary arts. When he was in high school, “we had ROP, which is fine,” he said.

“But this is more concentrated,” he said of the high school vocational curriculum offered by Manteca Unified’s first ever vocational charter school.

MUVA, an independent charter school of Manteca Unified and doesn’t get a dime from the district’s general fund, offers vocational training to junior and high school students regardless of whether they live in the school district area or anywhere in San Joaquin County. There is no tuition fee required to get into the charter school which derives its budget from state ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funds. The goal of the program is to have the charter school students trained in the vocational classes offered and receive their high school diploma at the same time. Some of the students may also earn college or university credits while in the charter school, giving them a head-start when they go on to pursue advance studies after graduation.

The Manteca Unified Board of Education, which also serves as the governing board for the vocational charter school, is currently discussing about the possibility of adding another vocational course – Industrial Fabrication Technology – one of the three courses that they originally planned to offer when MUVA opened last year. The third course, besides Culinary Arts, was Medical Office Assistant. Due to budget constraints, the board decided to start off with the Culinary Arts program which required the least funding.

Students finishing the vocational program could graduate both with a high school diploma from Manteca Unified and a certificate from Delta College or other post-secondary institution. For more information about MUVA, log on to www.mantecausd.net, click on OUR SCHOOLS and scroll down to Manteca Unified Vocational Academy, or call (209) 858-7460.

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