South Forsyth High School students donned white coats, black chef hats resting atop their heads as they bent over silver countertops, plating mini pies, cheesecake squares, shrimp and grits and other finger foods.
Some of Dawn Martin’s culinary students carried white platters around the kitchen to serve their guests, which included Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden and other Board of Education members.
The event served as a grand opening celebration for South’s new culinary arts suite, which was completed in December.
“We’ve been working on this for about two years,” said Martin, South’s culinary arts instructor. “The [program] started back in 2001 with a seven-block kitchen area, and we went from there to a full commercial kitchen.
“The program became so popular and we started doing so many things that Jeff Cheney, the principal at that point, said ‘Let’s go ahead and make this happen.’”
Though the school’s culinary students moved into the new space in January, Martin said the program needed rebranding before it could officially open.
“With the name, [585 South], we wanted to represent South Forsyth High School and the community,” Martin said, “and that’s what we did.
We asked the students, we asked the faculty and then to the parents we put out an email saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing — looking for a name,’ and we went back and narrowed it down and we came up with the name from there.”
The school is located at 585 Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth, just off of Exit 13 of Ga. 400.
The new space, Martin said, is now a suite because aside from a new kitchen, the school added a hospitality suite — including a computer lab — for hospitality and marketing students to use in collaboration with the culinary students.
A 70-seat dining room was also added, which Martin said will now allow her to teach students front of the house procedures, such as proper serving, table setting, napkin-folding and other techniques.
Previously, the program placed most of its emphasis on back of the house, or food preparation and cooking techniques.
A room off the back of the hospitality suite also contains lockers and a changing room for students to don their chef coats and hats.
South’s culinary program — a career pathway — has a little more than 200 students enrolled, of which about 8-10 percent move on directly to a cuisine-related job after high school.
The program can be completed in three years, with the fourth year now involving internships at local restaurants and other work-based learning environments.
Students will also now be allowed to begin taking courses in hospitality in ninth grade.
This, Martin said, will allow them to complete the culinary arts program by the end of their junior year and give them time during school hours to gain real-world work and internship experience during their senior year.
Senior Meagan Dove is one of those interns.
“I started the program my sophomore year and I finished it last year, so I’m an intern now,” she said. “I really love food, but I also like interacting [with others] so I love having that opportunity to talk to the people you’re serving to.”
Bearden said the front of the house skills are key to the program’s success.
“These students get the whole gamut of what it’s like to be in the service industry,” he said. “From cooking to marketing to serving and the business aspect of it, it is one of the best culinary arts programs in the state.
“They learn so many skills, and when you’re in the service industry, those soft skills, which oftentimes are missing in our high school students, they have to have those.”
While the dining room is currently only open to students, Martin said she plans on opening a pre-school café next year and hopes county entities, such as the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, will use the space and her cooks.