Inside the teacher’s desk in the culinary arts classroom at Seaside High School sits a license from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, issued to legendary American chef James Beard in June 1975.
It was one of the discoveries Chris Holen made when he took over as instructor for the culinary arts class this school year in place of John Newman. Another discovery was a love for teaching at the high school level.
“John (Newman) will have to beg to get the class back, because I’m having a lot of fun,” said Holen, 40, the owner and executive chef of Astoria-based Baked Alaska.
While the license and what it represents — the many summer classes Beard hosted at the school in the 1970s and 1980s — are enough to inspire any chef, Holen said, he finds a similar inspiration and enjoyment from the juniors and seniors who choose voluntarily to take the class and exhibit a hunger to learn about culinary arts.
Although Holen has held demonstrations, instructed interns at his restaurant and put on an after-school program for elementary school children in the past, teaching at the high school level is a new experience for him.
When Newman, a longtime friend of Holen’s, decided he needed a hiatus from teaching the culinary arts class, he recommended Holen as a replacement.
Since graduating in 2000 from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona with degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management, Holen has been self-employed as a restaurateur in the area. Besides running Baked Alaska, Holen also is the founder of a company called Chef Daddy Brands that develops gourmet seasonings and cooking supplies and sells them online at www.chefdaddybrands.com/.
He also is the reigning champion of the United Way of Clatsop County’s Iron Chef Goes Coastal competition, and he placed sixth in the nation at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans this year.
Now he has a new challenge: teaching enthusiastic students “how to cook, not just how to follow recipes.”
The class meets three days a week. If students take the elective course for two terms in the fall and winter, they receive three college credits through Clatsop Community College.
Holen is loving the job, and he said if it doesn’t kill him or disrupt his other businesses too much, he would like to continue doing it.
“I don’t have time, I’m making time” to teach the class,” he said.
He is developing a curriculum this year, and, if he continues, he will use the curriculum again next year. His focus is using “in-season ingredients combined with classic French techniques,” he said.
During the first few weeks of class, he taught the students the techniques for making the French mother sauces, such as classic tomato, bechamel, veloute, espagnole and hollandaise sauces.
When they began to practice derivatives of the sauces, however, Holen allowed the students to be more creative.
“I let them put their own twists on them,” he said.
He enjoys working with all the students, whether their aspiration is to cook at home or to pursue cooking professionally. Part of Holen’s program will involve taking the students on field trips and providing them with opportunities to prepare and serve food for group events.
“One thing I feel is a part of success is being involved in community efforts,” he said.
The class catered a meal on the evening of Sept. 19 for people arriving in town for the annual 3-Course Challenge cross country race at Camp Rilea the following day. The students served about 1,500 people at the high school that night, Holen said.
The class also was tasked with catering the dinner for the high school’s open house last week. The theme of the meal was “international cuisine,” and the students served turkey meatballs with red sauce, curry chicken skewers over coconut rice, bay shrimp tacos, coconut macaroons, quinoa with peaches, broccolini and focaccia pizza margherita.
Any contribution the class receives for catering certain meals goes toward its fundraising account to be used for field trips.
Some of the trips Holen has planned for the year include visits to Skipanon Brand Seafood in Warrenton, Kingfisher Farm in Nehalem and Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe in Astoria. He wants the students to experience the multiple phases food goes through in the restaurant industry, from being grown, to being canned or preserved to being prepared and served.
“This is a whole new world in food,” he said, adding people are becoming more interested in the source of their meals and the students should be prepared for that.
“It’s important for them to see where their food comes from,” he said.
He would like to carry on the tradition for excellence in competition experienced by the school’s culinary arts team in the past. He hopes for a team from the school to place at the Oregon ProStart High School Culinary Championships and go to nationals, like the past two years.
He encourages the students to pursue more subtle methods for achievement, as well. For example, senior Ian Kimerough has plans to focus his Pacifica Project on creating a business plan to help raise funds for the culinary arts program, and Holen said the plan Kimerough creates should be able to serve as a model for future classes, as well.
“My main focus is to keep (the program) alive,” he said.