KATY MAGAZINE I November 2019
By Natalie Cook Clark
Katy ISD's Miller Career Center's Culinary Services program gives students hands-on training in commercial cooking and restaurant management. This program also offers the community an opportunity to benefit from their training by dining at the delightful and reasonably-priced, Old Town Bistro.
Taylor HS football player, Jamiles Pryor works in the Old Town Bistro kitchen.
A Student-Run Bistro Open to the Public
Katy's Rhodes Stadium serves as the backdrop for the the quaint Old Town Bistro. Here, the Katy community can experience first-hand what these students are learning. Guests to the Bistro are professionally greeted by students and served by students under the direction of the instructors.
A Real-World Experience
"We are giving students real-world experiences that are far more valuable than any classroom setting," says Miller Career and Technology Center's principal Russell Faldyn. "We're providing students to make important career choices. The nation is seeing a trend where employers want students to be career ready and we're setting these students up for a successful future."
Students Try On a Career
"This offers our student's a hands-on experience," says instructor Chelsea Gumm. "There is no way to know if something's a fit but to try it on. Also, commercial cooking is a different ballgame."
"We are giving students a valuable opportunity to test out these fields rather than waste time and money in a trade school or college just to decide they don't want to pursue that field," says Faldyn.
Students Move on to Top Culinary Schools
Students from the culinary program have gone on to prestigious culinary schools in New York City and San Antonio. The program also has a graduate who is working as a chef at Houston's Hotel ZaZa.
"Because of this program, I now know what I want to focus on specifically," says Taylor High School senior Rebecca Goodman. "I really like how we rotate through different types of cooking. I knew I loved to cook but I really fell in love with baking. I'll be attending a culinary school in Austin to focus on wedding cakes. The school is very impressed with my background I've received from this program."
"We also take turns in the kitchen so everyone gets the chance to do it all, including washing dishes and supplies. That's not fun but it's part of the process," says Goodman.
Students Still Keep Home Campus
The programs at Miller Career Center are available for juniors and seniors. Interested students apply during their sophomore year; there is a 90% or greater acceptance rate for those who apply. Once enrolled, the students still keep their home campus, but travel to Miller for two periods. There is a morning and afternoon sessions, with lunch periods remaining at the students' home campus.
Students Participate in High School Extracurricular Activities
Students who attend programs at Miller can still participate in extracurricular activities through the schools. Jamiles Pryor, a senior at Taylor High School, plays defensive tackle for the Mustang football team.
Taylor HS Football Player Inspired By His Grandmother
"I love cooking," says Pryor. "When I was younger I use to cook with my grandma. She's my inspiration and she actually came to eat at the Old Town Bistro and was amazed and proud at what I was doing."
Pryor plans to attend the culinary school and business program at the University of Houston with dreams to become a master chef and own his own business.
In addition to their working period in the Bistro, the students take a math course, specific to cooking, at Miller.
"Math is part of cooking," says Faldyn. "They learn converting math and chemical reactions all crucial for culinary. We really set these students up so they are ready to go. They all find that they are one step ahead of other students their age."
Catering, Bistro Open to the Public
The Old Town Bistro also offers catering for business events, parties, and even weddings. Since all students rotate through various cooking disciplines, this provides them the opportunity to experience all of the elements involved in a catering business.
The Old Town Bistro is open to the public. Reservations are not required, but recommended. They are open most Wednesdays and Thursdays for breakfast 8:30 am - 9:30 am and then for lunch 11:30 am - 12:30 pm. Their specialties include biscuits and gravy, almond crusted trout, BBQ mac and cheese, carrot cake.
"It often amazes people how good these students really are. The Bistro maintains high quality, big portions, and reasonable prices," says Faldyn. "It's treated like a restaurant and follows health code inspections just like any restaurant. They received a 98 percent at their last inspection."
The program celebrates the joy of cooking, with some fun events too.
"Students feed on competition so we have cupcake wars, burger battles, and other fun events where we bring in Katy ISD employees to judge."
Miller Connects Teachings to the Real World
Miller Career Center offers other programs with the same goals to give students that real-world experience and help them be career ready when they graduate high school. Like the Old Town Bistro, Miller programs offer quality services and affordable rates.
"It's a win-win. Residents of Katy get inexpensive services and our students get more experience," says Faldyn.
"We have to connect what we are teaching to the real world and that's exactly what students in our culinary program, as well as Miller's other programs are doing," says Faldyn.
For more information on the Old Town Bistro, make reservations, or schedule catering call 281-237-6323 or 281-237-7580.
Learn about other Miller programs and services for Katy residents here.