Cooking up careers: Carmel High School culinary arts program provides real-world experience, professional mentorships


With a state-of-the-art professional kitchen under construction, multiple admissions to prestigious schools and a growing network of mentorships with local chefs, it’s been a busy season for the culinary arts program at Carmel High School.

“We’ve been working tirelessly for years to build this program into something we can be proud of and give our students the best possibilities, because it really makes a huge difference in their lives,” said Chaya Reich, Carmel culinary boosters president.

Often, students entering culinary arts classes aren’t on a career pathway or involved in extracurriculars at the school. They are seeking a direction and a place to plug in.

“Being able to give them purpose is incredible,” Reich said.

Reich and her team founded the culinary boosters in 2021 after encouragement from family and consumer sciences department chair Nancy Spencer and culinary instructor Nick Carter. Spencer and Carter were seeking extra help with the annual Cheftacular cooking event.

The competition-style scholarship competition pairs students with professional chefs from Carmel. They are provided unique locally sourced ingredients to create one-of-a-kind dishes. Funds raised benefit the department and the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank.

Carter also spearheads the competitive culinary teams at CHS. One of the teams won second place in the Indiana ProStart Culinary Competition in association with the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association and will compete at the national level in June.

“This is a possibility at massive scholarships,” Reich said. “So, it’s a very big deal for us. We’ve never had students do this ever. So, we’re over the moon.”

Carter agreed.

“I have tried to keep kids engaged in competitions, because the competition itself, preparing for the competition, competing in the competition and the subsequent feedback, it’s really a growing experience for the students,” Carter said.

Reich said the culinary arts program has “developed a track record” of students going to top culinary schools, including two 2022 CHS graduates who are studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Reich said. Recent CHS graduates have also gone to Johnson and Wales University.

Tyler Foster, a CHS senior, is enrolled at CIA and will begin studying there in the fall.

“My experience within the Carmel culinary program has really been just an absolutely amazing time,” Foster said. “I started out with little to no knowledge going into high school of how to cook, not knowing what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I think industry experience that I’ve gained from taking classes is another big part of the preparation to go to The Culinary Institute of America.”

This is a story Carter has seen repeated over his seven years at CHS.

“When (Foster) first started taking classes, he was the quintessential freshman boy that had no idea what he wanted to do with his life,” Carter said. “Through our classes, his experience with the Cheftacular and his opportunity to work with professional chefs, he has direction, a goal and he is passionate about it.”

Foster’s involvement in Cheftacular caught the attention of chef Sam Merenda, co-owner of Kahn’s Catering, where Foster has been an intern for the past year.

“As someone that started my culinary journey in high school, much like Tyler has done at CHS, I feel there is a lot of valuable experiences that the program offers to help students develop real-world experience to help guide the students down the right path,” Merenda said. “Early on in a chef’s career it is imperative that the right culinary skills, work ethic and professional habits are established and developed in the beginning.”

The culinary boosters in partnership with the Carmel Education Foundation have established a scholarship for culinary arts students.

Carter and the culinary arts team are looking to expand their offerings in the future through new commercial kitchen facilities and a food truck.

“I think the commercial kitchen is going to be a huge step forward because the environment somebody is in is very important for the mindset and the standards that you put into place,” Carter said. “We’ve had a lot of success, and we’re really stoked about the future and kind of our goal of being able to step it up more as we get into that professional setting.”

Construction started in December, and no completion date is set.

“I’m excited about our ongoing development of our events, trying to provide a positive opportunity for the public to interact with our students and from high school in general,” Carter said. “I love that we try to create an experience where the public can see what these kids are capable of, and some of the positives.”

Culinary arts students will participate in the International Art Festival in September and other community events as opportunities arise.

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From left, chef Lucy Wright, Carmel High School culinary instructor Nick Carter and student Julia Hohne at the 2023 Cheftacular. Hohne was the student winner at the event. (Photo courtesy of Chaya Reich)

Cheftacular set for May 6

The community is invited to join Carmel High School culinary arts students and local chefs for the sixth annual Cheftacular scholarship competition and fundraiser set for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 6 at CHS, 520 E Main St., in the main cafeteria. More than 20 teams will provide dishes to taste featuring locally sourced ingredients.

“Students and chefs create dishes that you’ll never ever eat again. They are unique and special,” said Chaya Reich, Carmel culinary boosters president.

Students compete for scholarship money from Sullivan University. A portion of Cheftacular proceeds is donated to the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank.

To purchase tickets, visit