Garfield High School Students Cook Thanksgiving Lunch at The Prado

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Garfield High School culinary arts students Culinary arts students from Garfield High School, photo credit: Michael Higham[/caption]

On Nov 14, The Prado in Balboa Park hosted the 15th annual Thanksgiving luncheon. The food was cooked by culinary arts students of Garfield High School in collaboration with chefs from The Prado. The event allowed students to put their cooking skills to work and raise funds for the Garfield High School Foundation.

Garfield High School is an atypical school where at-risk students are given a better chance in education. Students approach the school because they have not found success within the traditional school system. Some students have had off-campus troubles that have negatively affected their status as students. Principal of Garfield, Jolie Pickett, explained the difference between students at Garfield and other district schools:

“The difference is that the adults have failed the students in the past. Students come to Garfield because they weren’t going to school. They were habitually truant. They weren’t earning their credits. They weren’t doing to their homework and school work. We’re getting a second chance to get it right.”

Owners of The Prado, Lesley and David Cohn, have coordinated the Thanksgiving luncheon alongside Garfield staff since the tradition began. With the event in its fifteenth year, Principal Pickett reflected on its evolution:

“Initially it was just a way for students to get together and give back to the community. Eventually it became part of the culinary curriculum and a fundraising event. But it also became a way for us to share with you the success of Garfield High School students.”

One of the student speakers, Diego Sanchez, gave the audience a piece of his personal story:

“Some of our students didn’t have the best academic records and I myself made bad choices. When I was younger, I didn’t care much about my future. Fortunately, I stepped out of that state of mind and awoke in Garfield. They not only helped me catch up on my credits, but they’ve helped me prepare for college.”

Diego is simultaneously attending college classes with Garfield’s City Middle College program. Diego stated he was at the top of his class in Physical Science 100 at City College. In a display of humility, Diego also said, “I’m not special. I’m not out of the ordinary. I’m just an 18 year old student who is in high school and college preparing for the real world.”

When speaking to Diego, he complemented the culinary arts program by saying, “It gives you the best simulation for the real world, working with other people and working with your superiors.” He also held a job at a deli in Hillcrest that he found through the culinary arts program.

Garfield High School students food
Top: Herb Brined Turkey Breast, Bottom: Green Bean Almondine and Vanilla-Yam Puree

The food prepared for the Thanksgiving buffet was of professional quality. Students and Prado chefs prepared Herb Brined Turkey Breast and Leg with natural pan gravy. Sides included Vanilla-Yam Puree with cinnamon streusel, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans almondine. Stuffing was made with ingredients from Garfield’s own garden.

One of the four deserts prepared was a Garfield students’ original. The pumpkin cheesecake with ginger snap crust and maple-pecan topping is a recipe straight from the school’s kitchen.

Culinary arts instructor Arlyn Hackett explained that Garfield is one of three programs in the district licensed as a restaurant kitchen. Mr. Hackett and students cater three to four in-house events to help fund the program. We asked him about working with and teaching his students and said:

I don’t think of them in any way as different. I know they’re behind on credits, but I don’t treat them any differently. I like working in this environment. I have no interest in working in an upper-scale school. I try not ask much about my students because I don’t want to pry, but at the same time I’m open to who they are.

What was organized and presented by the Garfield staff and students showed incredible dedication to changing lives. At-risk students have the capability of succeeding, but it is sometimes difficult to find a method of channeling their potential.

Garfield High School is one of two continuation schools in the San Diego Unified School District.