Reisa Pierson, a senior at Capital High School, is spending her weekend putting the final touches on more than 3,500 mini desserts for the Montana Democrats annual fundraising dinner on Saturday.
Pierson started an internship at Chili O’Brien’s Catering and continued working on her baking and pastry skills. When Chili O’Briens needed help making desserts for the Mansfield Metcalf dinner on Saturday, Pierson asked if she could spearhead the project with help from her classmates. Now the class is assembling thousands of lemon curd, key lime and vanilla huckleberry mini tarts, dipped brownie bites and mousse cups.
Pierson comes from Capital High School for a two hour block of class in the morning to take Helena High School’s advanced culinary arts class, called ProStart. Pierson said the culinary classes at Capital are designed to teach everyday cooking, while the facility at Helena High is set up like a commercial kitchen. Pierson said both schools have been more than willing to help her make the drive each day and built her schedule so she could be a few minutes late to Capital without missing an important class.
“I’ve been working at this every day. I also come here after school and stay for a couple hours,” she said. “It’s a great experience.”
Pierson said the most challenging part is finding recipes and adapting it to make more than 1,000 of each dessert, but so far it’s gone smoothly.
Joan Leik, the culinary teacher, said the class is licensed through the health department to serve food as long as it isn’t hot. They also have an industrial dough sheeter to make large quantities of pastry dough at a time.
“For us it’s super exciting,” Leik said. “It raises the kids' level of expertise and they’re proud of themselves.”
The advanced culinary class follows curriculum from the National Restaurant Association and the Montana Restaurant Association sponsors teachers to get certified in culinary instruction. Students can receive dual credit which can be applied to culinary programs at the Missoula College, Flathead Valley Community College and Gallatin College.
The culinary students also have the option to work with Chili O’Brien’s at the dinner on Saturday night and get paid for their effort.
“It’s right from the classroom to paid work,” Leik said.
Leik said it’s a chance for the community to experience firsthand what students are learning. In turn, students gets to see how the classroom has prepared them for the next step.
“It was such an opportunity for us to be part of the community,” she said.