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Manteca Unified showcases culinary arts
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Brian Burns is busy with an order with Gilbert Lozoya seen down the line talking with visiting juniors from other area high schools Tuesday morning showing an interest in being part of the culinary arts academy next year. - photo by GLENN KAHL

The  pristine MUVA Culinary Arts Academy opened its doors to curious juniors from area high schools Tuesday morning with student chefs proudly showing them their accomplishments in their stainless steel kitchen, classroom and small café that will soon be open to the public.

The Manteca Unified Venture Academy charter school has some 20 students – all high school juniors from throughout the district – many of whom have voiced their intentions to go on and attend culinary institutes throughout the country.

The visiting students were greeted with an introduction by the district’s Nutrition Services Chef Bryan Ehrenholm in the café, which was once part of the old school district office, now sharing the building with the schools’ Premiere Credit Union.

The reaction from one visiting junior when he was first talking with the student chefs in the kitchen:  “This is awesome!”  He added that his grades are now up to what they should have been last year when he first applied.  He will be there when school opens in August, he insisted.

The orientation included a visit to a computer class room area where students spend time with two teachers taking care of their independent study toward their high school diploma.  The next step was into the stainless steel kitchen where they met white clad students behind their serving area with small offerings of pizza along with a dessert.

Chef Ehrenholm has been in the restaurant business since he was 14 when he started by washing dishes.  He is known for his unusual pies and has won 14 blue ribbons in the last eight years with his entries that included Root Beer Float and Bacon pies in his entries in the Crisco National Pie Championships in Florida. 

The teens in the program demonstrate a high level of respect for their teachers and for each other – all with the same goals in mind.  A group of them have already set their sights on attending the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt.  A couple of the students are taking online classes to get a head start before attending in their freshman year.

The café will be open to the public beginning with the next school from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Their current school year ends May 23.  Students not making the required grades in academics will be put onto a probationary status.

Brian Burns said he spends two to three hours in the classroom and the rest of his day in the kitchen.  Having had an uncle in the restaurant business, he hopes to open his own after graduation from the New England institute.

Ehrenholm said his students carefully watch the budget and what is selling in the café and what is not since they first opened for school district employees, adding that the students get paid from the profits of the café.  They help redo the menus for all the school and help make the decisions on what to offer – what their friends would like to be eating, he said.

Just last week they catered a dinner for 175 guests at a scholarship fundraiser at Del Webb.  The young chefs had six food stations set up for the diners.

The executive chef noted that the parents have to be on board with the program since some days the students are required to arrive early in the kitchen and often their days extend into the evening hours.

Student Terrence Harvey said that in other high schools he had researched, the students don’t have a café to serve their entrées to customers. 

“They encourage us to check out culinary schools,” Burns and Harvey chimed.

They agreed that their head chef teaching them his trade knows how to have a good time and how to connect with students.

Harvey chuckled when he recalled learning how to prepare an egg 16 different ways.  The Venture Academy student said his dream is to have a fine dining restaurant established in New York and then move on to Los Angeles.