A local chef whose regulary culinary classes at Gilroy High School are a smashing success – boasting 100 percent daily student attendance – is spreading her forward-thinking learning model to Morgan Hill.
The Morgan Hill School Board voted Dec. 11 to allow the El Cajon Project, a Bay Area-centric culinary program founded by Ewing for at-risk teens, to be implemented at Live Oak High School in January.
Aimed at preparing students for life post-graduation, the El Cajon project uses hands-on training in the kitchen to teach food preparation and safety skills. El Cajon is the only high school culinary curriculum of its caliber in the county, according to Ewing.
She stresses the need for career technical education in today’s public education system, especially in high schools.
“We’re not going to have enough chefs out there if we don’t start getting them young,” Ewing said.
Not only that, but “some of these kids are going off to college,” she added. “They’re going to have to learn how to cook.”
For many of her students, opportunities to experience authentic working environments before venturing into the abyss armed with nothing but a high school diploma draws the fine line between landing a job and getting looked over. The largest employment opportunity for young adults is in the field of hospitality, Ewing notes.
The El Cajon project currently operates out of its partner restaurant, Mamma Mia’s on East Dunne Avenue in Morgan Hill. Here, students are placed in internships where they work directly with the chef to learn the trade of culinary arts.
With four decades of experience in the restaurant industry and 15 years of teaching under her belt, Ewing has received many accolades. She was recently recognized with the Jefferson Award, which honors Bay Area individuals for making a difference in the community. Ewing strives to impact students by keeping them on the right path. She hopes to make the same mark on the lives of Morgan Hill students by expanding her El Cajon program to the area.
“I build my restaurants with four walls, love, business, education and family,” she said. “A lot of my kids have one of those missing. I’m here to replace that.”