Escondido: Orange Glen’s New Culinary Classrooms Bring ‘Top Chef’ Finalist to School

As San Diego restaurateur Brian Malarkey helped Orange Glen High School students whip up batches of appetizers in their newly opened culinary classrooms, he confided that the stainless steel commercial kitchen facilities were a cut above his expectations.

“They’re nicer than probably all of my restaurants combined,” said Malarkey, a “Top Chef” finalist who visited the school Tuesday as it inaugurated its culinary arts building, along with new performing arts classrooms.

The $17 million complex, paid for with Proposition T money, houses the culinary classes, including a classroom, student kitchen, and pastry shop. It also includes choir and band rooms with individual practice rooms, a “black box” theater, dance studio and gymnasium.

“In the midst of shrinking budgets and conservative economic survival, the citizens of Escondido and Escondido Union High School District have formed a partnership that has allowed us to expand and enrich the education experience for our youth,” said Orange Glen Principal Tom Allison.

The modern, white buildings are accented with red trim and surround an open courtyard, to add “a little bit of color, and have this playful atmosphere,” aimed at encouraging creative activity, said David Rova, design director with HMC Architects, which planned the structures.

The teacher demonstration kitchen features sleek stainless steel commercial appliances: convection ovens and induction burners that allow chefs to cook faster and with greater control than household kitchen fixtures. A big-screen television installed above the kitchen affords students a close-up view of cooking techniques.

A student kitchen provides separate work stations with gas ranges, fryers, grills, flat-top ovens and refrigerated drawers for convenient food storage.

The baking and pastry shop centers around a 60-quart industrial mixer with a whisk blade the size of a watermelon, and additional convection ovens for baking pies, tarts and cakes.

“I think it’s really spectacular,” said student Taraka Ballentine, 16, who hopes to pursue a career as a chef. “It gives us an opportunity to get more experience.”

Whipping up batches of peppers stuffed with pulled pork, chicken salad on cheddar croissants and squares of red velvet cake, Ballentine and other students said they’re eager to start classes in the new facilities.

“I think it will help because it’s more of the actual equipment you would use, instead of the ‘home ec’ equipment we had,” said Kayla Smith, 16, who aims to become a pastry chef at a hotel. “And it’s just a really fun experience.”

Six hundred students attend culinary classes at the school, Allison said, and officials aim to attract more to the program.

“That’s our hope, that kids in our district, if they are passionate about culinary and want to go into this industry, they will go to this school,” said culinary arts teacher Kristi Sovacool.

Malarky, executive chef and partner of the San Diego restaurants Searsucker, Burlap, Gingham, Gabardine and Herringbone, said the program will benefit students who want to prepare food for their families, along with those who aspire to a career in cooking.

“It’s really exciting for me to know that there may be great chefs coming out of here, but it also brings people back to the table,” he said. “There’s so much Internet, so much fast-food, if you can bring people to the table and have a conversation, that’s a win-win for everyone.”

[easingslider id=”396″]