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This article was published in the Rifle Citizen Telegram. By Teresa Hamilton.

Photo of Coal Ridge HS students cooking in kitchen

Coal Ridge High School seniors Isidro Contreras Morales, left, and Tyler Sheerin cook Salvadoran cheese and carnita pupusas for the Colorado River Fire Rescue staff as part of their final exam.

Isidro Contreras Morales’ knife blade flashes as he slices through the cabbage and peppers on his cutting board. The cuts are intricate and precise.

Morales is a senior at Coal Ridge High School, but as his knife flies across the cutting board, he is also a Colorado Mountain College student. He and two of his fellow Garfield Re-2 seniors, Tyler Sheerin (CRHS) and Kendra Mann (RHS), were completing their final exam — a three-course lunch for the shift at Colorado River Fire Rescue Station 43. The meal included a traditional Salvadoran cheese and carnita pupusa, Cheyenne burger with homemade barbecue sauce, bacon and onion rings, and red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, pecans and candied bacon.

According to Mike Meador, CMC culinary arts instructor and chef at Smoke Modern Barbeque, the culinary arts students will leave high school with not only their high school diploma, but they will have earned ServSafe certificates and enough culinary skills to have a job immediately after graduating high school.

“The first three or four weeks of the program, they completed their ServSafe certificates. It brings unique aspects of the food service industry and makes them eligible for managerial material instantly. It makes them acutely aware of the health risks, and health applications of food, what is involved in the cooking process, and how to receive and take care of the food,” he explained. “They pretty much can walk into any kitchen and they will have a head start on a career that I have been in for 20 years. They can walk into any kitchen and cook on the line.“

Morales decided to take the class to help him advance in his job after school. He works at The Pullman restaurant in Glenwood Springs. Morales began as a dishwasher, but now works the pantry and occasionally on the line.

“When I had free time, I started asking if they needed help on the line. I began doing small stuff for them, and they put me on the line,” he said.

The culinary arts program through CMC provides Isidro and his classmates high school credit as well as career skills. They have experienced stocks, soups, knife skills, baking, and different types of dough and pastries. For Morales, the culinary arts program provides a solid career option after leaving high school.

“This class has given me a good background and another understanding of cooking. People need to eat, and these are skills you can continue to refine and get more creative with,” he explained.

Sheerin plans on studying biology and premedicine in college, but the culinary arts program will provide him with part-time job opportunities while he is in school.

“I enrolled because I thought it sounded fun. The skills I have developed will help me find a job while I’m in college for sure,” he said.

Culinary arts students hold part-time jobs at Grand River Health, and local restaurants, and two have been accepted into the Mesa State University culinary arts program.

“This program means so much to me,” Meador said. “To be able to watch these kids grow and succeed has been extraordinary. It has truly been an exciting year for the program.”

The success of the program continues to grow with around 30 applicants for about 12 slots next year.