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Culinary curriculum adds dash of insight to Salem students

By Elizabeth DinhTim Steele,


SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Amaya Soeun recently worked at a winery for a catered event. It was a lesson outside the classroom for the junior at McKay High School in Salem.

The culinary classroom, that is.

When she first signed up for the class, she admits she had other ideas about what to expect.

“I just, like, came in here ’cause I was, like, oh, well I can cook and I’ll be able to eat,” Soeun said. “And then I, like, started to really love the class. And so I got here to restaurant managing.”

The lessons from the class are tasty but they come with skills usable in the real world.

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“The most interesting thing that I’ve learned in this class is probably, like, finding myself and finding what I like doing, like baking and what kind of cooking I like to do,” she said.

That’s the kind of impact Culinary Arts teacher Chris Feskens loves to see.
Chris Feskens is a teacher in the McKay High School Culinary Program in Salem, February 2023 (KOIN)

“One of the impacts that is kind of surprising to me is the kids that take this class who aren’t interested in pursuing it as a professional pathway, but they, they end up loving it. It ends up being their favorite class,” Feskens told KOIN 6 News.

Whether they pursue a career in the culinary world or just learn to appreciate it more, his goal is to show students how they have more potential than they might know.

“The big thing for me is, I hope that my kids like that they learn a lot about themselves, right? That they through the discovery of putting their hands on the things that we do here that they learn what they like, what kinds of things they’re interested in,” he said. “That’s my hope for them.”

The Culinary Arts program is part of the Career Technical Education Center in the Salem-Keizer School District.
Students in the McKay High School Culinary Program in Salem, February 2023 (KOIN)

After high school, other students were so inspired, one went on to operate a cottage bakery and another owns and operates a food truck.

As for Amaya Soeun, she has a better idea what she wants to do professionally and is helping other classmates get the most of the culinary curriculum.

“It’s changed me a lot,” she said. “A little while ago I was really lazy and, like, I found this class and I was just like, I love doing it.”
Amaya Soeun, one of the students in the McKay High School Culinary Program in Salem, February 2023 (KOIN)

She said her favorite thing is helping other students get to the level she’s now at.

“There’s like a Level One and a Level Two, and my favorite part is helping people and getting to know other students,” she said.

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