This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
It was at the Culinary Arts CTE program at Randolph Career Academy that Rahsheen Gorham and Nyia Greer first became friends.
Now, as 2015 graduates, the two friends, both 18, share similar goals. The first one is to attend culinary school in Philadelphia.
Gorham plans to study baking at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill to become a baker or pastry chef. Greer is heading to the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where she, too, plans to study baking.
“I really don’t know as much as I think I should know," said Gorham. "I would like to learn more information from being [at Walnut Hill]."
He’s also considering earning a bachelor’s degree in management, hoping to one day own his own bakery.
Gorham and Greer were awarded scholarships to their respective colleges through a Careers Through Culinary Arts Program competition. Students were required to make two appetizers to qualify, and their creations were judged. Both made the finals, where they cooked chicken-based dishes and desserts.
“I was actually kind of angry after I got out, because I thought I hadn’t done good," Gorham said. "But to find out afterwards at the award ceremony that I got a half-tuition scholarship, that was pretty shocking.”
Both students felt that their achievements were made possible by attending Randolph. Working with their culinary instructors, Greer and Gorham took classes on proper sanitation skills, basic cooking and baking techniques, and the business of cooking. As a part of their education, all the students earned their ServSafe certification in food handling, a necessary credential for restaurant workers.
“I think CTE high school was better than traditional high school," Greer said. "In 9th grade, we had mostly academic classes, but I was still in an afterschool program for culinary. In 10th grade, we baked cookies and made little things. It was just more fun than regular school.”
Students were also encouraged to take part in other extracurriculars like DECA, once known as Distributive Educational Clubs of America. These programs were sources of internships, scholarships, and learning experiences for those involved. Gorham recalls his favorite event as one that was organized by chef Michael Bell. It took place over the summer.
“Chef Bell talked to us over the summer, and we did a barbecue competition,” Gorham said. “We worked with Stephen Starr, and we made ribs and stuff over the summer. We also won second place for ‘People’s Choice’ and had an opportunity to do an internship with Stephen Starr in a restaurant.”
Along with Bell, chef Erik LeBlanc taught and mentored the students.
“Chef LeBlanc was more about talking and teaching,” Greer said. “Even now, I still text him for advice.”
During their time at Randolph, Gorham and Greer were responsible for their culinary classes, academic courses and helping to feed the other students. In 10th grade, they focused on ServSafe and other kitchen protocols. In 11th grade, they made lunch for the school. In 12th grade they were responsible for making breakfast.
“Starting to make new culinary dishes — even if they were amateur dishes — to see if people liked them was very shocking. It was nerve-wracking, because you don’t know exactly how people will think of your food,” Gorham said.
“You really appreciated when people would come up to you and say, ‘You made this? It was really good.’”
Samantha Weiss was an intern at the Notebook this summer.