Recipe for Success
Barry Goldwater High School unveils new student-run restaurant
By Madison Rutherford
Avenue 27 is the North Valley’s newest buzz-worthy fine dining destination. However, you won’t find veteran chefs in the kitchen or master maître d’s in the dining area. The restaurant is run by students in the Culinary Arts program at Barry Goldwater High School.
The restaurant hosted its grand opening on Friday, November 9 for members of the community to meet the kitchen staff and try its culinary creations. Its modern lighting, minimal, monochromatic décor and open kitchen design made it easy to forget classrooms were close by.
Chad Schleicher, an employee at Sunset Ridge Elementary School, was pleasantly surprised by Avenue 27’s size and layout. “It doesn’t feel like we’re at a high school,” he says. “(When I was) in high school… we didn’t have anything remotely close to this. It’s nice for kids to get real-world experience.”
In addition to taking on real roles in the restaurant industry, students have the opportunity to shape the public’s perception of food. Avenue 27’s tagline, “Thoughtful Cuisine,” exemplifies the staff’s dedication to serving high-quality, carefully crafted dishes meant to inspire guests to cultivate a healthy relationship with what they’re eating.
“We love to see youth excited about learning how to cook because it’s really a lost art form,” says Christine Hicks, Community Dietician Supervisor for the Maricopa County Office of School Health and Wellness Initiatives. “I think a lot of us have lost that sense that food should be enjoyed.”
Avenue 27 is helmed by teacher-chef Ryan Mattheis and propelled by the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which provides students with a rigorous, hands-on course of study that helps them prepare for success in a specific career path. The Culinary Arts program is a four-year curriculum that offers beginning classes on sanitation, knife skills and professional cooking techniques. As students progress, they learn how to craft more creative dishes and elaborate desserts. This year, third- and fourth-year Culinary Arts students have the opportunities to enroll in the restaurant management class that operates Avenue 27 and apply their skills through an internship in the industry.
Mattheis graduated from Goldwater in 2008, when the culinary program was just beginning to blossom. He has wanted to implement a restaurant into the curriculum since he started teaching there in 2012. “The program has been kind of reinvigorated the past two years to include work-based learning,” he says.
Though the students get stressed at times, Mattheis says their enthusiasm and commitment to learning is an inspiration. “They’re sponges; they’re ready to learn. One of the best parts of teaching is when you hear students say, ‘I came to school today because of you, because of this class,’” he says. “And these kids are running the kitchen, they’re talking, they’re really collaborating on an adult level, which is amazing to see.”
In fact, it’s hard to believe Avenue 27 is run by teenagers. According to the high school’s principal, Anita Sulc, students are solely in charge of everything from placing orders to preparation to packing up. The most miraculous part? “They put no thought into where their phone is because they’re so engaged,” she says.
Mattheis says he rarely has phone problems in the kitchen. “If they do take out their phone, it’s because they want to snap a picture of their dish, not because they’re texting. It’s pretty amazing.”
Sulc says the program simultaneously helps students find their niche and venture out of their comfort zone. Mattheis nods emphatically when asked if he sees some future chefs in the program. “I would say the majority of the students are looking at this as some kind of career, whether it’s short-term or long-term,” he says.
One of those students is Avenue 27’s sous chef, Andrew Corral, 16, who is currently applying for scholarships to go to culinary school in California. His favorite part about cooking is the creativity that’s required to hone the craft.
“I’m not too good with baking. With baking, you can’t improvise. You have to follow a recipe. I like to improvise and throw in whatever I want,” says Corral, who is a junior.
Corral is in the kitchen every day after school for at least two hours and sometimes four or five hours on Thursdays and Fridays.
Head chef James Lacno, also 16, says he’s there every weekday until 5 p.m. In addition to the passion and precision he puts into his dishes, he believes it’s his organization, leadership skills – sometimes his kitchen staff calls him “Mom” – and strong work ethic that landed him the top spot. Though he’s achieved a head chef position well before his 18th birthday, he says he wants to pursue a completely different path when he graduates. Lacno wants to become a medical surgeon, an ambition he says parallels his work in the kitchen – both require precision, focus and the ability to withstand pressure.
Avenue 27 is now open to the public and accepting reservations every Friday. Guests can expect elaborate, inventive cuisine like seared bistro steak with potato puree, charred Brussels sprouts, shishito peppers and spicy chipotle mole.
What else is on the menu? Community, commitment and pride. And a few surprises.
“I love seeing community members come in here and watch our students work… you come in here expecting to see a school, some people expect to see students going crazy and roughhousing,” Mattheis says. “But they come here and they’re like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ This is a restaurant, students are working. They’re chefs and they’re professionals.”