by Dave Fehle, Executive Director, Clayton Valley High
With Concord Comfort Food Week coming your way, what better topic to feature than Chef Marcellus Waller and the Culinary Arts program at Clayton Valley Charter High School.
Step inside Chef Waller’s kitchen classroom and be prepared for something delicious. This past month, CVCHS students prepared from scratch pumpkin ravioli with a balsamic, brown sugar butter sauce plated with roasted broccoli.
For their final semester project, students learned about dairy and were instructed on how to make up to 20 flavors of ice cream. As you can imagine there were lots of fruit and peppermint-flavored options due to the holiday season. The ice cream experience is a bit messy when made from scratch, but the kids have a ton of fun and lots of laughs.
“I enjoy providing students with the opportunity to learn and prepare various food types. If you call something comfort food, you mean it is pleasing to eat and makes you feel connected,” explains Chef Waller. “My goal through our Culinary Arts program is to provide our students with healthier, nutritious options than a bag of potato chips. Comfort food is enriching and the ultimate indulgence, especially during the holidays, for its ability to nurture body and spirit.”
Nearly 180 students attend the six Culinary Arts classes located on-campus. Because of the growing student demand, CVCHS converted the old Home Economics classroom into a professionally equipped kitchen with two commercial refrigerators, a freezer, eight stovetop/range stations, and a pantry. The cooking experience expands outdoors where students have access to a smoker and an eight-gas-burner grill.
This is Chef Waller’s fourth year teaching at CVCHS. He credits his culinary experience largely from Carmine’s Family-Style Italian Restaurant in New York City’s Times Square where he acquired his love for cooking as a head-line chef. Waller, a native of Foster City, moved to NYC to get into musical theatre after attending UC Irvine. As he explains, the restaurant industry and acting go hand in hand. He spent three years in both professions before eventually deciding to go back to school and earned a Master’s in secondary education.
After teaching history six years in New York, Waller sent out 50 applications to schools in California. His wife, Donna, also looked for a position and was hired at CVCHS. She now chairs the CVCHS Social Science Department. When the CVCHS administration looked at Chef Waller’s varied background, they hired him to teach Drama and Nutrition and Food Science in addition to Culinary Arts.
So what does Chef Waller have planned for the upcoming Spring 2022 semester and beyond?
Hint: Restaurant Wars and World Fairs.
“While students at CVCHS are very competitive, love sports, and winning, I did not design Restaurant Wars after the TV show, Top Chef,” admits Chef Waller. “The impetus around the CVCHS Restaurant Wars is to provide our students with the experience of creating, marketing, and managing their own mock restaurant. This concept includes real patrons to serve who have real expectations and opinions on the food and service quality – just like in the real world.”
Culinary Arts 101 is an introductory class. Most students enrolled because they love food, want to learn how to cook, or heard how fun the class is. Students who excel will be encouraged to take the advanced International Cuisine class which dives deeper into skills, more complex recipes, and the ethnic, historical, and regional origins of the dishes prepared in class.
International Cuisine will also include four World Fairs held at the end of every quarter for students to showcase “bites’’ of the international dishes they made that quarter while giving their peers snippets of the historical and ethnic origins. Students will also design and build individually decorated service booths to present and serve their unique cuisine to patrons.
Ultimately, Chef Waller would like to give those students who are enthusiastic about the culinary arts and considering a career in the hospitality and food industry more opportunities beyond a high school diploma.
“Providing students with a glimpse of a great, rewarding future is something special that I get to experience every day,” says Chef Waller. “And while it would be great to inspire the next Alice Waters or Guy Fieri, my ultimate goal is to ensure our students develop healthy, nutritious habits for a lifetime.”
CVCHS is fortunate to have educators like Chef Wallace reinforcing good nutrition and inspiring our students. So, remember, several years from now, a CVCHS graduate may be taking your order, preparing your food, or owning the next Michelin Star restaurant in town. And we can all thank Chef Waller for that. Here’s to good eats at CVCHS in 2022.