Popular free class lasts 16 weeks and teaches high school students how to cook for themselves — and more
Most of the two dozen high school students arrived early to their weekly cooking class held after school on Mondays at the Franklin Neighborhood Center on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside.
They aproned up, washed their hands, sterilized cutting board work space, pulled long hair back into braids and tamed flyaways with baseball caps as pseudo hairnets.
The popular program is still free and offered mostly to local high school juniors and seniors who are hoping to learn more about cooking and nutrition.
In its seventh year, more than 175 students have signed up for the 16-week course that could help them get a summer job in the food industry or simply prepare them for life after high school.
“For Christmas and Thanksgiving, I don’t like to do the same thing,” parks department employee and cooking teacher Anita Dominocielo-Ho said to students during a recent lesson.
Dominocielo-Ho, who coordinates the program, was teaching students how to make stuffed shells and quinoa salad. She was joined by Ryan Silliman, chef at Montecito’s Birnam Wood Golf Club.
For the past five years, Silliman has offered students tips for healthier eating and how to tweak recipes to their liking.
Last week it was pizza; Next week, carrot cake.
Cooking comes naturally to Alberto Gil, a Santa Barbara High School sophomore in his second year as a chef apprentice.
As one of the more experienced cooks, he finely chopped sausage to go into the shells and mixed the recipe by hand — reminiscent of the cooking he’s done with his family since he was young.
Gil was assisted by a handful of dedicated program volunteers, including retired city planner Bettie Weiss, who coordinate ingredients and cooking utensils.
They also ensure that students get a pre-cooking snack of fruit and yogurt or post-completion fruit to take home along with meals — all provided through donations from the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, the Adelle Davis Foundation, the Bragg Health Institute and others.
Cooking is more than a hobby for some, including Victor Muro, who graduated from Santa Barbara High in 2014 and is in his third year as a chef apprentice. His very first class had just 15 students.
Muro is more of a mentor these days as a Santa Barbara City College student. Since he’s studying to become a professional chef, he wears a white chef jacket instead.
“It’s really awesome,” he said. “At the beginning, it’s a little bit awkward (for students).
“But by the end of the program, it’s like a little family.”
Enrollment into the Chef Apprentice program is limited and requires an application.
Students have the choice of meeting at one of two locations — from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, 1136 E. Montecito St., or from 4:15 to 7 p.m. at the Westside Neighborhood Center, 423 W. Victoria St.