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Culinary Arts students take part in annual holiday tradition

Juniors in the Culinary Arts program are hard at work as they take part in the gingerbread house construction project this week at the HFM Career and Technical Center.

The festive classroom project is an annual tradition that was instituted by former HFM Career & Technical Education (CTE) Culinary Arts instructor Kevin Collins. Students are tasked with constructing a gingerbread structure that stands by itself and is creatively decorated. According to Culinary Arts instructor Chef Todd Harper, he decided to keep the tradition alive when he took over the program three years ago because of all the different areas it encompasses.

“It incorporates a little bit of everything that we teach on a daily basis when preparing our students for college or the workforce. Students have to research, plan, and even use mathematical skills when it comes to measuring ingredients,” Harper said.

He also said that while the students work on their projects individually, there’s also a lot of teamwork involved.

“There’s lots of collaboration that goes into this project, and the students are always bouncing ideas off their classmates to help each other out.”

Students begin their projects by sketching out a design on paper. Next, they trace their designs onto cardboard, cut out the pieces, and tape them together to make sure everything fits together correctly. Once done with the cardboard structures, students mix the dough. Batches and batches of gingerbread are made, chilled, rolled out to the proper thickness, and cut into shape using the cardboard templates.

Harlee Litts, from the Northville Central School District, said that she’s hoping to showcase her attention to detail when it comes to decorating her gingerbread house.

“I’m trying to go for a simple look, but one that is unique and very pretty.”

Litts understands though how difficult it can be working with gingerbread, so she plans to focus her efforts on the structure of her house.

“I’m trying to focus more on getting the structure built and having it stable so I can design,” said Litts.

Chef Harper estimates the class will prepare more than 300 pounds of gingerbread! After baking is complete, the students will mix ingredients to create royal icing. Nearly 70 pounds of ‘glue’, as bakers call it, will be used to hold the gingerbread pieces together. The students will then focus their efforts on assembling and decorating their houses using a variety of candies including gumdrops, marshmallows, and candy canes to name a few. They will be graded on various factors including design, creativity, quality, even all the decorations being used.

Sierra Lundquist, from the Greater Johnstown School District, said her favorite part of the process has been the planning and designing phase. Like Litts, she’s planning for a straightforward look.

“I’m going to keep it pretty traditional and incorporate a peppermint forest as well,” stated Lundquist.

Although just juniors, both Litts and Lundquist already have their sights set on attending the Culinary Institute of America after graduation with each student hoping to own a restaurant someday.

According to Harper, when the projects are complete they will be put on display in the halls of the HFM Career and Technical Center for everyone on campus to view and vote for their favorite, with one student receiving bragging rights for crafting the best house.

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