MARK A. McClinnaham can make hollandaise sauce in three minutes flat.
In six months he's learned the chemical properties of egg whites and the delicate handling necessary to make puff pastry puff. He can whip up quiche or creamy pure'ed soup.
McClinnaham, 20, learned to cook in the new Culinary Arts Training Program of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Of 70 applicants, he was among 23 selected for the first session. Of those, only 10 survived the rigorous six months of classroom work and on-the-job training.
That's why the students' recent graduation ceremony April 14 was hailed so proudly by program sponsors including public school personnel, the District's Private Industry Council, the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., and the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Members of these groups created the training program as a rare opportunity for unemployed and unskilled workers, like McClinnaham, to become professional cooks. Someday a few of these first students may even become chefs, says Alfred Natale, chef-instructor and one of several Culinary Institute staffers who supervise training sessions held daily in the public school's professional kitchen at Burdick Career Development Center, 1300 Allison St. NW.
The food industry needs between 80,000 and 90,000 workers a year, Natale points out, and it's very expensive for employers to supply all the training. Therefore, the Culinary Institute has joined with local businesses and schools--here, in Westchester County, N.Y., and in Cincinnati--to develop a series of lessons that teach high school graduates the necessary skills. The institute's blessing has also given students special entree into Washington, D.C., kitchens, for many of the city's professionals were trained in Hyde Park.
McClinnaham, for example, has become a prote'ge' of Capital Hilton Executive Chef Walter Sheib, a Culinary Institute graduate.
To provide students a realistic view of food service work, their second week of training was spent in commercial kitchens. At the Hilton--one of 16 participating hotels--McClinnaham's "lessons" often began at 6 a.m.
"This is not sissy work," he said. There were 50-pound sacks of onions to be hoisted from floor to table, and hours of vegetable chopping. There were large pots to lift onto hot stoves. It was hard work, even for a Southwest Washington youth whose previous kitchen duty included feeding six siblings, plus military KP.
"Some people dropped out after that second week because they weren't prepared for the physical labor and nine-hour shifts," McClinnaham said.
The "survivors" then began 12 weeks of cooking school. They studied a curriculum similar to that offered on the Hyde Park campus. Institute chefs came in to teach certain lessons, and daily classes were supervised by Betty A. Sims, program coordinator.
Mornings started with a lecture-demonstration of a complete menu. Students then assembled a lunch that was often seven courses long.
Then there's the homework: "What is the proper temperature of water to be mixed with yeast? Quick." McClinnaham asked with a smile. "What is the correct order to combine ingredients for cake? There's very little time to fool around in a commercial kitchen, and you're expected to know the basics."
By the time he completed formal training, this graduate of Ballou High was ready to prove his skills during 10 weeks of on-the-job training at the Hilton, where he baked 20 quiches at a time, made huge pots of onion and mushroom soup daily and carved large joints of meat. McClinnaham was paid for his stint in the kitchen, with extra pay for carving, which is considered an advanced skill.
This program--with its valuable on-the-job training--has worked so well that a second session is under way. Twenty-three students were chosen from the many applicants who were tested and interviewed. The culinary arts project is just one of several job training experiments being conducted by the public schools in cooperation with local business, according to Frederick Kleisner of the Capital Hilton, a member of the Private Industry Council. He is operating a job bank for culinary arts students. On graduation day six were employed, including McClinnaham, who has earned a full-time position at the Hilton. Three others had interviews lined up and one, Lola McConnaughey, was enrolled in the Culinary Institute on a two-year scholarship.
To illustrate their new-found talents, the students in McClinnaham's class prepared a lavish luncheon for more than 100 guests at the graduation ceremony. They carved and assembled turnip flower centerpieces for each yellow-clothed table. The meal began with an unusual pairing of spicy barbecued shrimp atop hot, dill-sauced cucumber slices. The soup was gumbo z'herbes, made of various spring greens simmered in chicken broth, pure'ed and garnished with ham, veal, onion and scallions.
Chef Natale says the sauce for the entree, called "Chicken California," is very light, as it is thickened with rice flour. Only a small amount of sauce is necessary, because the chef recommends placing it next to--not on top of--the chicken breast, avocado, tomato and monterey jack cheese combination. This dish was served with tiny zucchini baskets filled with finely sliced vegetables. A mixed green salad was dressed with peanut vinaigrette. Dessert was apple pie, ice cream and whiskey sauce.
McClinnaham says fancy foods still aren't his favorites--but it's obvious his career choice has changed a few eating habits. These days, he likes his vegetables barely cooked and his meat medium-rare. He's gained 10 pounds along the way to his new profession. Where would he be were it not for such training?
"Still out on the street, looking for a job, any job."
His resume now can include recipes such as these from the Culinary Arts Training Program graduation luncheon: GUMBO Z'HERBES (Makes 2 quarts) 1 cup collard or mustard greens, packed 1 cup spinach, packed 1 cup turnip greens, packed 1 cup cabbage, packed 1/3 cup chopped chicory 1/4 bunch watercress 1/4 bunch parsley 1 carrot top (optional) 1 radish top (optional) 2 cups chicken stock 1/4 cup finely chopped ham 1/4 cup finely chopped veal 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 tablespoon chopped onion 1 tablespoon chopped scallion Dash each ground cloves, allspice, ground cayenne pepper, black pepper 1/4 teaspoon salt
Simmer greens plus optional carrot and radish tops in stock, covered, for 1 hour. Pure'e. Brown meat in oil and add to greens. Add onion and scallion. Season to taste with spices and simmer for 1 hour. CHICKEN CALIFORNIA (4 servings) Sauce: 1 quart chicken stock Bones reserved from chicken breasts 2 tablespoons rice flour 2 tablespoons cold water 6 tablespoons enchilada sauce Dash salt Dash cayenne pepper For chicken: 4 chicken breasts, boned and skinned 1/4 cup flour Dash salt Dash pepper 1/4 cup clarified butter 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced in 1/4-inch cubes 1 small avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped in 1/4-inch cubes 4 slices monterey jack cheese
Cook chicken stock with bones until reduced, brown and slightly thickened. Mix rice flour with water and stir into stock. Add enchilada sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Dip chicken breasts in flour, shaking off excess. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute' in clarified butter very briefly until opaque and place in a single layer in a baking dish. Top each breast with diced tomato, avocado and a slice of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately, with a little sauce alongside. PEANUT VINAIGRETTE (Makes 1 quart) 1 cup malt vinegar 1 tablespoon dried tarragon 1 tablespoon dried chives 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper 4 ounces chopped roasted peanuts 3 cups peanut oil
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve over fresh mixed greens.