Do you know the meaning of “chiffonade”? The students of Charlene Nugent’s 8th grade Culinary Arts class at Petaluma Junior High School do. They also know what “julienne” means. Petaluma Junior High’s program is unique for middle schools in that it pairs a culinary program with a garden. It combines gardening, harvesting, prepping, gourmet cooking, and restaurant style dining. These hands-on learning experiences are nested within a Seed to Tablecloth curriculum. Quite an experience for middle school students!

Culinary Arts Curriculum

A Day in the Kitchen

Students prepare dishes like bruschetta, with fresh ingredients straight from the garden.  Ms. Nugent approaches her class as professional training, integrating all aspects of culinary arts. The school cafeteria manager is a full-fledged partner, giving tours so students can observe a professional kitchen.  Curriculumis integrated with cooking class activities.

Lesson framework

For each Culinary Arts class meeting, students focus on one herb or vegetable—this day it’s basil.  Ms. Nugent has already done the "front loading” for the lesson. She researches it online and reviews background information with students, giving them cultural and culinary contexts. They take it from there, discussing which dishes basil can be incorporated into, and returning to the computer for more research and data gathering.

Science makes scents

Out in the garden, students first learn the parts of the plant so that they learn how to harvest without pulling up the roots. Gently pinching off the top fragrant leaves of a basil plant and learning how far down the stem to go is a typical lesson for these students. They pick off the top leaves and inhale. Part of the lesson for them involves describing the sensations, recording their observations in a journal, drawing a picture of the plant on a worksheet, and finally gluing a sprig, botanic-style.  Then they return once again to the computer to research a recipe that uses the herb.  Science, horticulture, social studies, and English Language Arts are all packaged in a basil plant.

The science teacher uses the garden for life sciences, ecosystems, plant identification. She partners with the cafeteria manager, who collects kitchen scraps from the cafeteria for composting. This becomes the introduction to composting. She also helps in the garden, so students see the full cycle of the plant life. Then they use the produce for the culinary arts class.

Putting it to work: Recipe of the day

Today, the students are making bruschetta with ripe tomatoes, onion, garlic and basil, all from the garden right outside their door.  The only ingredients NOT from their garden are basalmic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar—well, and the bread!

Bruschetta (pron. brus'ket'ta in English, /bɾu'sketta/ in Italian) is a food whose origin dates to at least the 15th century from central Italy. It consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of spicy red pepper, tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, and/or cheese; the most popular American recipe involves basil, fresh mozzarella, and tomato. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer. In Italy, Bruschetta is often prepared using a brustolina grill. In Tuscany, bruschetta is called fettunta, meaning "oiled slice".

Bruschetta à “Nugento: Recipe for bruschetta, created by Ms. Nugent and prepared by students.

Work in the kitchen is approached as professional training. Students use professional chefs' knives, sauté pans, and other equipment commonly found in a restaurant kitchen.  Safety procedures are first and foremost, but students are given access to all equipment, and along with that, responsibility, and they are allowed to learn from their mistakes.

At the cutting board, Ms Nugent introduces the term “chiffonade,” and ask if they remember the meaning, which they don't until she prompts them.

"Chiffonade," is the process of stacking leaves of a vegetable, rolling them into a tight roll and julienne cutting them into strips.  The word comes from the French meaning "made of rags" referring to the fabric-like strips that result from this technique.

Roles and Responsibilities

Students say:

"I like being able to cook and learning how to make ingredients to make different recipes."

"I like it. I basically took it to learn to cook.  It's better than my other classes because you get to talk more. It's more social."

  • The students are arranged in teams, with a "Head Cook," an "Assistant Cook," and other assigned roles.  Each role is described in detail so that students are clear on the parameters of their duties.  Students rotate among roles—Head Cook, Assistant Cook, Host/Hostess, Dishwasher, Runner, etc.  Part of the assessment includes an outline for student roles and responsibilities in the kitchen. They are also assessed with a “Foods Grade Sheet,” which is based on specific kitchen and food preparation tasks.
  • Before anyone begins cooking, students consult theirChecklist for Cooking Days.This listlets students know exactly what is expected and prepares them for professional roles in the world of food preparation.  They do their paperwork first, and then gather at team stations. It’s the Head Cook’s responsibility to see that each student on the team carries out his or her appointed duties.  Some measure ingredients, some chop, some sauté, some are in charge of the oven.  Others set the table and still others are “runners,” who help when and where needed. 
  • Each team produces a lunch meal.  When the day’s dish is prepared, they sit down to a white tablecloth lunch, with table settings and napkins displayed like a high end restaurant.  Eating and socializing caps the day—until clean-up.  It’s part of the learning process!