The pace was fast and furious in the Mansfield Senior High culinary arts kitchen Thursday as lunchtime diners and carryout orders began pouring into the Cub Room. “I need two more grilled chicken sandwiches, one with no onions,” Chef Linda Golden called out. “And put on three more Reubens, one with fries to go. Make sure there’s a side salad with ranch dressing for this pasta bolognese.”
Golden, the culinary arts instructor, sat at the end of a kitchen counter, a seemingly endless stream of order tickets spread out in front of her. From her vantage point she could yell – yes, sometimes it was necessary to yell – orders to the grill cooks and salad makers, at the same time communicating with servers moving in and out of the swinging dining room doors. “We’re going to run out of chili today. I have a feeling,” she muttered to herself.
If the intense activity might lead one to believe the Cub Room is a real restaurant it’s because it is a real restaurant. “We’re licensed by the Ohio Department of Health and subject to inspections just like any other restaurant,” Golden explained. “In addition to teaching cooking methods and basic baking, our students are instructed in health safety, proper food handling and knife skills.”
There are 15 seniors and 19 juniors in the two-year culinary arts program, one of Senior High’s career tech offerings. The Cub Room – open to staff and the public from 11:05 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays – offers students an opportunity to display their culinary and serving skills. How busy are they? On one day last week, Golden said, nearly 60 orders grossed $525, all of which went back into food and equipment for the culinary arts program.
Thursday’s menu featured black bean chili and homemade cream of broccoli soup at $1.50 per cup or $2.25 per bowl. A three-egg fiesta omelet served with a side salad and homemade bread was $4.75. Sandwich offerings were a grilled New York Reuben or a grilled BBQ chicken breast with cheddar cheese and carmelized onion, each at $5.50 and accompanied by a choice of one side, a cup of soup or french fries. Each week’s pasta entrée features a large portion, side salad and homemade bread for only $6. On Thursday it was pasta bolognese, homemade pasta sauce with beef, vegetables, tomatoes, parmesan cheese and fresh basil.
Much of the preparation work is done the day before. Between 7:30 and 10 a.m. on Cub Room days students complete all that is necessary to open the doors and answer the phone by 11:05 a.m. “We change the menu every two weeks or so and we try to make it seasonal,” Golden said, referring to the homemade pumpkin cheesecake with fresh whipped cream and caramel. Guests could opt for chocolate pecan pie with whipped cream. Both were $2.50.
“Hey! There’s too much noise down there!” Golden said, chiding the grill cooks to focus on the orders she was calling out. “These kids work hard and they have developed a range of skills. I enjoy teaching and working with them.”
Senior Taylor Ferguson was serving guests in the dining room. “I have worked in another restaurant and this feels just like the real thing,” she said. “I have learned cooking skills and how to work with others during my two years in this program.” Does she plan a culinary career? “Actually, she said, “I want to join the Air Force and enroll in pilot school.”
Board of education member Sheryl Weber, a former Senior High teacher, brought her 18-year-old grandson with her for lunch on Thursday. “The food is great, the prices are right and the service always is wonderful,” she said. “When I was teaching I would eat here whenever it was open.”
Chef Ed Golden, a culinary instruction paraprofessional who assists his wife, joined in preparing omelets at the height of demand. “This absolutely is a taste of the real world for our students,” he said. “Generally, we have guests who have about 30 minutes to order, be served and enjoy their meals. We have been lucky to always have kids who respond well to the challenge. And then there’s the cleanup…”