Running a catering company out of a classroom is a pretty daunting task. Yet when the culinary students at Village High School hear the words "production day" from instructor Kit Little, they are quick to wash up and don aprons to get the job done. Preparing ingredients and taking the role of head chef or sous chef of the project, the cooks in training do it all, keeping to their slogan, "we like to stir things up."
About 35 students will take the class over the course of the year. Two classes meet during fourth and fifth period each day, meaning there is about an hour and a half for work to be done.
Local businesses, the city and school district often employ the Village Catering staff for various events, including feeding volunteers at the Alviso Adobe Community Park opening last month.
A church in Livermore also requested 36 pies for a fundraiser they were doing. Caitlin Boldt, 17, was up to the task, as she's considered the group's pastry chef. She's so talented, in fact, that Little had her make some pies for a recent family gathering, which received rave reviews.
Taking both periods of the class, Boldt said she looks forward to the chance to move around the kitchen, as it is a welcome break from sitting at a desk and writing.
"It's my favorite class," she said. "I like working, moving around and making something."
Students come to Village High School for various reasons, whether it is class credit deficiency, drug or alcohol issues or because some just don't do well in a large school setting.
Very often, there is a negative connotation about alternative high schools. Little said she thought that too, even though she always had a soft spot for at-risk students she came across in her 23 years at Foothill High School. When presented with the opportunity to design and teach the then non-existent home economics program at the school, she decided to take a tour of the campus first.
There she saw a troubled student she had tried to help while at Foothill who was in her element, smiling and interacting with teacher and other students. It was then Little realized Village was the place for her.
Eight years later she still teaches home economics and serves as a work experience coordinator, in addition to overseeing the culinary program. Last Thursday the group got straight to work making a spread of Asian chicken lettuce wraps, focaccia bread and fruit tarts, which are just a few of the options Village Catering company offers.
After just a couple months in the program, Maria Hintze, 17, has already put a high-profile event under her belt. She and several classmates provided food for a fundraising event for John Garamendi, lieutenant governor of California, who recently announced his intention to run for governor.
"It was a really good opportunity," Hintze said.
It wasn't just about the food, she added, saying the group had to polish their manners and professionalism because they did everything from cooking to serving to presenting.
Little has seen some students from her Foothill and Village days go on to great careers in the kitchen, including one who is a private chef in Las Vegas. She believes these are great achievements, but she doesn't measure success by the number of students in the industry.
"It's about teaching soft skills," she said. "They learn teamwork, communication, leadership and time management."
Little added that while some days there are discipline issues, she holds her ground and encourages them, helping them develop a curiosity.
"Everything I do [as a teacher, I set the bar really high," she said. "I set it higher than they think they can achieve."
She requires a 90 percent or higher to pass an assignment, which is critical when it comes to the success of a dish. Yet, most of the students haven't scored that high in school. So when they pass, it's a boost to their self esteem and keeps pushing them forward.
While Hintze's not sure if a profession in food will be in her future, she is thankful for the program because she is eating healthier and the easy recipes have her cooking for herself and her family.
To learn more about Village Catering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.