Cooking up careers: Chefs-in-training savor Westfield High School’s culinary program


Walking the hallways at Westfield High School, it might come as a surprise when the aroma in the air is actually that of a gourmet meal. But that is exactly what happens when you walk past the doors of the culinary program on the first floor of the school on Union Street.

The culinary program is part of the high school’s family and consumer sciences department, something once known as home economics. But the class is far different from the baking lessons once given in high school home economics classrooms across the U.S.

The students are learning more than how to make dinner. The class is intensive. The young chefs get a chance to earn their certifications and the proper training to enter the culinary and hospitality workforce.

“It has been important for us to train students to be a contributing part of the Westfield economy,” chef and culinary educator Nikki Heflin said.

The culinary department was founded 10 years ago. It started with only Heflin and two courses, and through the years, the program grew. Heflin was joined by her partner, chef Bryan Ferreria, and the pair worked to develop the coursework further.

Now, there are four educators and 10 elective courses, starting with a basic culinary course. Students then get the option to move up and fine tune their skills. The program began with about 250 students and now has more than 800 students in the culinary pathway. They can also earn dual credit.

The chefs-in-training have a chance to be a part of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, a national career and technical student organization for family and consumer sciences. WHS culinary students in FCCLA get a chance to participate on the ProStart Culinary Team, Foodies Rock, which enters competitions.

Members of Foodies Rock are working on an entree for the ProStart State Invitational, which takes place March 1 at the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie.

Students will have one hour to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert using only two propane burners and two tables. The students have been utilizing their class time to practice creating that meal, which is a full-circle development process that starts with recipe development and ends with plating.

But included in the FCCLA Foodies Rock organization is the option to cater at local events. At the school, Foodies Rock have created the menu for guests at athletic events and speech and debate team invitationals. Across the city, they’ve also been there to provide catered meals for a wide range of events.

“Mayor (Scott) Willis just hosted his first big meeting with all of the city employees, and he had all our students prepare the breakfast,” Heflin said. “We have even catered for our district staff appreciation called Laugh it Off, and we catered for 1,200 faculty and staff over at the Carmel Palladium.”

Heflin added that the classwork and catering experience helps those students earn sought after jobs. The students agree, with many planning to continue their education in culinary arts once high school is over.

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Elijah Scisney and his classmates make fresh bagels as part of
a lesson on pastries in the WHS culinary arts program. A senior, Scisney plans to attend Ball State University for hospitality management and eventually become a chef. (Photos by Marney Simon)

Senior Elijah Vinci said he plans to attend a 4-year school and major in culinary arts, with the ultimate goal of becoming a chef. Kaylee Bowers, who is also a senior, said that her long term plan is to go to nursing school, but added that the foundation of nutrition and dietetics she’s learned in the culinary arts program will be useful as she learns to care for others. The pair are just two in the program who said the program is part of the foundation of their long term goals.

“Our main goal is to provide nutrition and culinary education to all students so that they are able to learn basic life skills. Then if they want to continue on with the pathway, we offer a more accelerated experience that teaches them career-based experience for nutrition, dietetics, food science, careers in baking and pastry, hospitality and tourism management and culinary arts,” Heflin said. “There are many career choices. We don’t want to teach our students that there is just one pathway for them in our industry. It is very diverse.”

The school district is also adding a new event space across, which the students will be able to use to cater additional community events.

The class provides a unique experience for these students, who learn menu design, plating, and everything in between.

“They know their value,” Heflin said of the students as they move into careers. “They are prepared.”

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Culinary arts educator Nikki Heflin, left, leads students as they practice making a creative dish for an upcoming competition.

Westfield Foodies Rock

Who they are

The students who participate in Foodies Rock are members of FCCLA, a national organization for family and consumer sciences.

What they do

Culinary students provide full catering services to events in and around Westfield. The students of Foodies Rock will take part in the ProStart Invitational in Muncie on March 1. ProStart is a nationwide, two-year high school program that unites the classroom and industry to develop the best and brightest talent into tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice leaders.

How to connect

Inquire with Chef Nikki Heflin for booking a catering event through the Westfield High School Culinary Program by email at [email protected], or call 317-701-4440.