Fulton Connect Gives Culinary Students a View into Their Future
A class must be really special for a group of 17 high schoolers to get up early each Saturday morning for a month and show up to school. Fulton Connect and Chef Simone Byron have developed a class just that special.
For three Saturdays in October, students from Banneker, Creekside, Langston Hughes, Tri-Cities and Westlake high schools enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at the Fulton Schools College and Career Academy (FSCCA) and attended culinary classes created by Chef Byron, executive director of Georgia ProStart, a division of the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). Hosted in the state-of-the-art commercial kitchens at FSCCA, students donned white chefs' coats and got covered in flour as they learned the skills needed to be successful in food service.
Chef Byron is the daughter of the late Brenda Byron, a 23-year Fulton County educator, who was featured in her classroom at Hapeville Elementary on the Oprah Winfrey Show for her excellence in education.
The final section of the Culinary Arts program featured the "Foundations of French Pastry: Fruit Tarts." Lead instructor Jasmin Nathan, a former student teacher of Chef Byron, worked with the students as they grabbed rolling pins and whisks to prepare the task of the day, creating delicious apple tarts. She helped them test, taste and work through the assignment, with the mouthwatering results serving as their final exam.
While FCS is hosting the program, the idea for these classes originated in the professional kitchens across the metro Atlanta dining scene. After hearing from their colleagues in the food industry about the need for more workforce development, Bryon and GRA President Karen Bremer created Fulton Connect. The partnership between FSCCA and GRA is now in its second year and has impacted more than 150 students.
On the surface, the classes may appear to be about kitchen skills and food knowledge, but Byron and Bremer are dedicated to the whole student. Fulton Connect goes much deeper by bringing in experts who also focus on leadership, time management, and personal finances. Another amazing component of the class is Byron's former students, whom she calls her "muffins," who take time to speak and act as instructors. They make it clear that because of what they gained from Byron's mentoring they are more than happy to contribute back to the program.
Ashley Casasola and Omari Sims, now successful chefs, both participated in the ProStart program. Their contribution to the day's event gave a boost to the aspiring chefs by imparting both new skills and professional motivation. These inspiring testimonials, coupled with practical, hands-on instruction, helped each of the young mentees depart with a clear image of what it takes to be successful in a culinary career and exhibit leadership.
On Thursday, November 3, the Fulton Connect program peaked with a certificate ceremony at the exclusive 5-star "White Oak Kitchen" restaurant in downtown Atlanta. The purpose of the certificate ceremony was to honor students for the completion of the Fulton Connect program, which included completion of courses in ServeSafe® Food Handler and Workplace Behavior, International Cuisine, and Baking & Pastry. In addition to certificates, each student also received a 5-star dining experience, a gift bag full of goodies, as well as a $150 gift card.