The Culinary Arts at Nathan Hale Bistro
Upbeat music blares from several speakers enhancing the high-energy atmosphere in the kitchen. Students in Hale Chef smocks work in rhythm, preparing and plating food. Waitstaff exit the kitchen, carefully balancing trays of food-filled plates and water glasses as they enter the cozy, eight-table Bistro located on the campus of Tulsa Public School’s Nathan Hale Magnet High School.
Each Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday during the school year, Hale Culinary Arts senior students serve a lunch-hungry crowd at the Hale Bistro. The food is prepped, cooked and served by Hale students. And, when the Bistro closes at 1 p.m., the student chefs and Culinary Art teachers enjoy a family-style meal together.
“That is probably the most fun time, when all the bustle of lunch is over and we get to sit down as a group and enjoy the food we have been serving to our customers,” said Nathan Hale Culinary Arts Teacher Robbie Rardin. “Many of my kids don’t get to sit down for a family meal very often. This is something I think is important.”
Through grants and smart budgeting, Rardin said, the Hale Culinary Arts program has two teaching kitchens and a restaurant kitchen. The Bistro, an integral part of the program, allows students to gain first-hand experience in all aspects of operating and managing a restaurant.
Hale is the only high school in the state with a restaurant affiliated with its culinary arts program.
Beginning in the ninth grade, Hale students are introduced to three divisions, or strands, offered at the magnet school: Health and Human Performance; Culinary Arts and Hospitality. After a year of studying kitchen equipment, health and safety rules and even cooking, freshmen decide which division they want to concentrate on the rest of their high school years.
In the Culinary Arts division, sophomores obtain their volunteer food-handling license which enables them to help in the restaurant kitchen or with catering an event when needed.
By the time the students are juniors and seniors, they are presented with a Hale Chef smock and dive in to the restaurant’s industrial kitchen, learning how to cook meats, vegetables and desserts. Every student experiences each part of the kitchen, from baking, to food prep to waiting tables in the bistro and the daily, never-ending task of washing dishes.
“Truly, if you are late to class, the odds are you will be on dish-washing duty,” Rardin smiled. “But, we are fair around here. Everyone gets dish-washing duty and they actually enjoy it.”
The Bistro’s menu is created by the seniors. “This year we explored foods from around the world,” Rardin said. “One week it was tamales while the next week it was French food.”
Currently, Hale neighborhood residents and TPS employees frequent the Bistro.
“We also do catering for TPS events and school events and our teachers can place a lunch order online and swing by the kitchen and pick it up.”
Rardin said the Culinary Arts magnet program goes beyond teaching cooking and restaurant work.
“Kids learn teamwork, planning and time management. It gives a way to take math, science, English and apply to real life. Kids must look at a menu and calculate how much they need to prepare. That is math and chemistry combined. They also have to handle money, order and check in the food for the restaurant and keep the kitchen clean.”
Many of Rardin’s students work part-time within the food industry while balancing schoolwork. And, next year many of her graduating seniors will attend Tulsa’s Platt College Culinary Arts School.