Wildcat Kitchen’s recipe for helping special needs students

In the Wildcat Kitchen, a bag of curly fries is never only about lunch – it’s about reading labels for ingredients, preparation and economics.

The goal is to help these special students get a job when they graduate from Destrehan High School, and teacher Linda Taylor is laser-focused on teaching them work skills.“Your students make you want to be a better teacher,” Taylor said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Student Nicholas Canarte, 18, of Destrehan considers the class fun, but it also supports his career goal.

“I want to get a job … so I can go work at a restaurant,” said Canarte, who graduates this year. “It’s fun because I like to cook. I like to cook fries, seasoned hamburgers and cut up carrots.”

This was a special Friday meal that the class prepared for students, rather than teachers, which lent to Taylor’s lessons about comparing fries and then tasting them to discuss the differences. She asked them about pricing, seasoning and portioning them for catering jobs, as well as how they liked the hamburgers and seasoning.

Taylor emphasized they strive to cook from scratch for a healthier and tastier meal. It’s even true of the fruit punch that is served at catering jobs.

While Canarte also appreciates his teacher, who he calls “nice and fun,” he also knows the class is about work.

Students must wash their hands before the food prep begins, and then they must follow the recipe and portion hamburgers.

“It smells good,” announces student Matthew Guichard of Norco.

The tantalizing scent of onions and garlic from the burgers fills the air and tantalizes the senses.

This eleventh-grader and his twin brother both have Down Syndrome, but Taylor said that hasn’t stopped either of them from becoming an inspiration to her and fellow students. Their mother, Laurie Guichard, has taught her sons to be polite, attentive and comfortable with being the center of attention with their outgoing personalities.

“I like food,” Matthew said. “I like to serve people and be respectful. I want to make my people happy and my mom, too.”His brother, Joseph, wants to be a chef. But Matthew said he has decided he’s going into sports medicine for the DHS Wildcats football team.

“I like to pump up the crowd,” Matthew added with a big grin.

While tasting the lunch they prepared, Taylor asked students steadily about how it went and tasked them to review a recent catering job, which means rating it from one to three on how they did and customer satisfaction.

She praised them for suggesting they serve a gluten-free brownie at a recent catering job, adding, a woman thanked her for serving them.

For Sandy Logarbo of Destrehan, the class has fulfilled her desire to be a better cook, but also to help out at home.

“I like we get to cook and serve to the teachers and community,” said the DHS senior. “It teaches you a lot when you get out to the real world.”

It’s Logardo’s third year in the class and it’s been fulfilling for her to learn how to cook more foods, which she especially enjoys doing at home more.

One of her favorite dishes  was Cajun Pistols with shrimp filling they made last year.

Logarbo’s goal is to get a job in childcare, but she believes the cooking class will contribute to her career goal. The class also has helped teach her work ethic.

“Ever since I’ve been here, I love this class,” she said. “When I get up in the morning, I look forward to the class and look forward to putting this knowledge to work at home.”

Ask student Corey Alexander of St. Rose what he likes about the class and he unhesitatingly replied, “Everything.”Naturally, Alexander added he really enjoys eating the food, too. But his career goal is to be the guy who fixes computers and knowing how to cook is a bonus.

Meanwhile, Taylor continues their lessons for the class.

Students are asked if the fries can be seasoned to use another brand. She also praised Conarte for noticing that a fellow student put the fries in the refrigerator instead of the freezer as being an indicator that he’s ready for work.

With this being her 36th year teaching the culinary course at DHS, Taylor ought to know what’s cooking at the Wildcat Kitchen.

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