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Recipe for Success: Wilcox High School Students Fast Track to Culinary Arts Careers

Recipe for Success: Wilcox High School Students Fast Track to Culinary Arts Careers

Wilcox High School students exploring the possibility of careers in food service can build a solid resume and get a head start in the field before they even graduate by enrolling in CHAMP—the Culinary Hospitality and Management Preparation program.

Students do more than learn to boil an egg. The 1,080 hours of classes at three levels, cover all aspects of the food service industry—everything from soup to nuts. Students explore career opportunities and assess relevant personal traits and skills. They study sanitation and safe food handling, government food regulations, nutrition, customer relations, cost and profitability, standardized recipes and measurements, food preparation and baking techniques, and facilities management. After completing classes, senior students work off campus.


Now heading the comprehensive CHAMP program, established in 1993, is Wilcox teacher and chef Daniel Arias, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, New York. “I really believe in this program,” says Arias. “The students grow personally and become more responsible. The program gives them confidence. They become young professionals.”

An exciting part of the curriculum for upper level student chefs is operation of the 50-seat, campus Creekside Cafe, which doubles as a classroom. The cafe is open to the public for lunch most Fridays 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Check the menu and make a reservation at

“I’m incredibly impressed with the menu and how hard the chefs work. It’s a professional restaurant on campus,” says academic counselor Lisa Kellert, sitting at a cloth-covered table with colleagues.

The student chefs also cater school-sponsored and community functions. “The Leadership Santa Clara program partners with the CHAMP students to cater our [June] graduation reception at the Triton Museum, and we inevitably get raves from our guests when they sample the variety of hors d’oeuvres and dessert items professionally served by the CHAMP students. The creativity, attention to detail, and value all add up to a winning combination for our guests,”  writes Scott Summerfield, leadership Santa Clara coordinator, in an e-mail.

“I highly recommend the CHAMP program to anyone hosting an event…It represents a tremendous example of the community partnering with the school district,” he continues.

“We bring the real world here, but there is a safety net for the students,” says Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, Santa Clara Unified School District’s Coordinator of Career Technical Education (CTE), which includes CHAMP. “We’re here to help build the next generation of professionals. We need to give them the challenge.”

At the successful completion of the program, students are awarded a certificate of achievement. CHAMP graduates can go directly into advanced classes in the Mission College culinary program, where Arias also teaches, because of an articulation agreement.

Perhaps 50 percent of the graduates continue in the field. “I want to study in New York, Paris, Italy. I have big plans,” says student chef Marissa.

“Not all my students will go on to enter the foods industry, but they develop management skills in this field that apply to any field,” says Arias.

Now that Arias and his student chefs have a gleaming new industrial kitchen—thanks to renovation of the Wilcox electives wing paid for with $6.2 million of the 2004 Measure J school bond, chef Arias has a new dream. He would like to expand the CHAMP program, which enrolls about 110 students, by adding another instructor. Sounds like a recipe for continued culinary success.

CTE programs are offered at all Santa Clara secondary schools. They provide 58 career pathways in over 15 industry sectors. Contact Kappeler-Hurley for information: (408) 423-2109. Online, go to; click on the “Departments” tab then “Educational Services.”


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