As a child, Haley Healy's grandmother would cook with her.

As a child, Haley Healy’s grandmother would cook with her. She savored those memories she made in the kitchen and they reminded her that she may have a career as a culinary artist. That’s why Healy enrolled in the Portage Lakes Career Center’s (PLCC) culinary program.  

“I liked cooking so much, I wanted to be a professional chef,” said Healy, a junior at Springfield High School.

Class instructor chef Laura Miller-Hannah said students that complete the two-year course can continue into a profession in the restaurant business.

First-year students learn the fundamentals of cooking such as how to make stocks, poach an egg, clean vegetables and maintain a sanitary kitchen.

"The health department comes into the school and says the place is spotless,” Miller-Hannah said. “He always says he tells restaurant owners if they want to hire a person they should do so from the culinary program because they know sanitation.”

The students develop knife skills during the first year and spend a lot of time studying the culinary arts in the classroom. Miller-Hannah notes that it is not an easy course.

“I never sugar coat it, because you have to learn how to do all of that,” Miller-Hannah said. “It is all a part of being a chef.”

The second-year students learn about business management, marketing and then they get into the meat of cooking – deboning chicken and learning to take the silver skin off of a tenderloin. The second year is more in-depth and includes preparation of pastries, desserts, sandwiches and breakfast. Students also learn how to cater a party, run a restaurant and the fundamentals needed for a well-rounded food service education. The program is aligned with the Restaurant Association and certified by the State of Ohio.

“We also have them take the ServSafe test to become certified,” Miller-Hannah said.

ServSafe is a program through the Restaurant Association that offers the tools and guidelines to prepare students for food safety in the restaurant industry.

“Every restaurant needs a ServSafe person. We figured, why not have them get that certification while they are here to give them a jump start into the restaurant business?” Miller-Hannah said.

Through ServSafe students learn about temperatures, measurements, sanitation, food-caused illnesses and more. A final test is taken for certification.

Students in the program are required to work 200 hours in the kitchen and 200 hours in a restaurant position. PLCC has an agreement with Stark State. If the students go through the PLCC program successfully, they can go into Stark State with as many as 12 hours completed credits and paid for at Stark.

“It is a very big bonus ... it is huge,” said Miller-Hannah.         

Robert Haasz, a junior from Coventry High School, said he chose to take the class because he always had a passion for food.

“When someone eats your food and they get a smile on their face and say, ‘Hey, that was really good, thank you,’ that is what I want to hear for the rest of my life.”

Attending the culinary program has encouraged him even more to follow that path.

The students get plenty of on-the-job experience throughout the two years.

“We have a wonderful placement coordinator, Lisa Clarke, she helps the kids with their resumes, she gets them going with job interviews. It is a huge plus. It is a great program,” Miller-Hannah said. “Many times the employers come to school to interview a student. Luckily, restaurants are always looking for people.”

Miller-Hannah is  a graduate of the Greenbrier Hotel apprentice program in White Sulpher Springs, W. Va. She has a restaurant food management degree, a food science degree from the University of Akron, is a proctor for ServSafe, former catering chef at Mustard Seed and West Point Market and has done her own catering and volunteering.

“I love my profession and I enjoy the students. I am very strict on the sanitation and the rules and regulations,” said Miller-Hannah.

She spoke about how the students are there to learn a profession and she prepares them for careers right out of school.

“My whole focus,” Miller-Hannah said, “is that when they go out into the restaurant business that they have all of the fundamentals when it comes to the start up of a kitchen, how to not have cross contamination, how to measure so they don’t have waste costing the owner money. They will be well prepared in the industry.”

Miller-Hannah recommends that students go on and get their associate's degree, as it will take them a little further and they will receive a little more respect in the profession.

“Anytime you finish a program, people have more respect for you because you have shown a dedication and that you have desire to learn as much as you possibly can, so always educate yourself, continually educate,” Miller-Hannah said.

The program is perfect for students interested in a restaurant career like Healy.

“I saw they had this program here and I thought it would be really fun to try,” Healy said. “It is a good profession to travel and try new foods and help people learn different experiences.”

Being a part of the program has only heightened Healy’s desire to cook professionally.

The Portage Lakes Career Center serves students from the Coventry, Green, Manchester and Springfield school districts. Adult education programs also are available. For more information visit plcc.edu or call 330-896-8200. The center is located at 4401 Shriver Road in Green.