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Petoskey Culinary Hospitality Program fills the stomachs and hearts of the community

When preparing a meal for more than 300 people, there is no such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen.

The secret to a truly fulfilling holiday meal? Dessert! Culinary students prepare a cake for the mealís final touch.

It’s early December and students at Petoskey High School are charged with hopes of a snow day, anticipation of classroom holiday parties and treats, and the stress of squeezing in the last minute tests and projects before break. For students in chef Bill Sommerfeldt’s Culinary Hospitality Program, there’s another source of energy mixed in. This 40-plus year old program and the students whom are a part of it are diligently working all season to provide holiday meals for the Petoskey community.
 
The scope of the Culinary Hospitality Program’s holiday goodwill ranges from the gratitude dinner, where students provided a late Thanksgiving meal for over 300 people recovering from drug addictions, to catering the local Wal-Mart’s Christmas party, to partnering with the Boyne City Hospitality Program to provide 20 gallons of soup for the hungry.
 
“While our culinary hospitality program is providing students the hands-on experience they need to go on to higher culinary education or join the hospitality workforce, the service learning work that is embedded in our program is preparing them for life,” Sommerfeldt says. “Life isn’t about a paycheck, it’s about doing the right thing.”
 
The culinary hospitality students at Petoskey High School cater up to 70 events per year, donating countless hours. They also give back to their peers and teachers by opening as a restaurant for lunch every Friday throughout the school year and provide culinary services for school events such as the Snowcoming Court Breakfast.
 
Leadership and civics teacher Lisa Pontoni utilizes the culinary hospitality program for all community and school events her leadership students plan. The heart of civics revolves around the role individuals play in society, and service learning allows youth the chance to find and enhance their role.
 
While traditional in-classroom experiences give students the fundamental skills they need for higher education and workplace success, it is the application that solidifies learning. Many teachers agree education needs to be hands-on, but when the real-world application is community-based and involves giving back, the solidification hits even harder. Participating in community giving develops a certain sense of humility that students aren’t always able to garnish in the classroom.
 
“Service learning teaches students that giving themselves over without payment isn’t beyond them,” Sommerfeldt explains. “They develop a kindness toward the community because they see the hardships that people in their immediate networks and communities face.”
 
When Sommerfeldt’s culinary students go on to pusue food service and hospitality careers, he wants them to be prepared not only for their day-to-day cooking and food preparation tasks, but also for the community service and pro bono work becoming an ongoing theme in many of these establishments. It is important to give students exposure to community giving, as almost all will continue to participate in some type of service as they grow.
 
“I always tell students every little thing we do is important, because we change the world a little bit at a time,” Pontoni explains. “I’ve had kids come to me with ideas for a certain project but with a thought that it isn’t big enough so it won’t count. I think of it the same way I think of teaching. I can’t reach every kid, but if I’ve reached at least one, I’ve had some sort of impact. So I tell my students no matter how big the project is, if it’s helped one person they have made a difference. This idea really hits home with them.”
 
The culinary hospitality students at Petoskey High School are following the program’s nearly half-century old tradition of culinary excellence while bringing holiday joy to their community. The heat in the kitchen of Petoskey’s Culinary Hospitality Program is warming the hearts of the entire school and community.
 
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