MEXICO — A culinary arts instructor from Lake Region Vocational Center in Naples dished out a taste of the course Thursday afternoon to sophomores from Mountain Valley and Dirigo high schools.

Career Awareness Day at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology brought more than 350 students from the two Regional School Unit 10 high schools in Rumford and Dixfield, respectively, and Telstar Regional High School in Bethel. Between 45 and 50 speakers talked about careers.

In the afternoon, Region 9 course instructors introduced sophomores from the RSU 10 schools to its programs. Culinary arts isn’t one of them yet, but should the Region 9 school budget be approved, the vocational school will offer it and a new business course next fall, Director Brenda Gammon said.

Lake Region loaned Region 9 its culinary arts program instructor, Eric Botka of Bethel. Botka, a former chef from restaurants and hotels, held two sessions with approximately 25 students in each.

He also expounded on the program while teaching them how to cook beef and blue cheese with red wine sauce. When the classroom atmosphere was rife with the tantalizing flavor of the meal, he let them sample it. Many reacted with surprise at how good the food tasted.

“All right, what is this?” Botka asked, starting the second session in the employability skills classroom while instructor Jen Barlow of Hanover watched. “It’s culinary arts. It’s fire, sharp objects and dead animals.”


Botka also touted the effectiveness of hands-on, career-oriented education. “We brought you over here to show you some career paths.” And then he dipped right into his family’s beekeeping trade, holding up a large black block of bee egg casings, which he referred to as “bee poop.” It brought wrinkled faces and comments, such as, “No way I’m touching that.”

“All right, what is cooking?” he asked. “Real simply, cooking is applying heat to food. How do we do that? Fire, sharp objects and dead animals. We apply heat to food in a sanitized environment.”

Botka asked the students for a definition of “sanitize” and didn’t receive any response, much to his dismay.

He said his students at Lake Region do dinners for 200 to 225 people in their classroom, which is the size of a cafeteria. Thursday was test day for them and that test was making a banana split from scratch.

Botka asked the RSU 10 students what the difference is between caramel and butterscotch sauce.

“Butterscotch is caramel sauce with butter in it,” he said before telling them that his course teaches how to make all of the sauces, including fudge and whipped cream, from scratch. They create the dish and eat it after it’s graded.


“My kids eat every day,” Botka said. “If you take culinary arts, you’re going to eat every day.”

The definition of sanitize is, he said: “All microorganisms are reduced to safe levels.”

He told students what to expect in culinary arts, such as how to flip and spin tongs multiple times in the air and catch them by the handle.

Afterward, Gammon said Region 9 would like to offer a culinary arts course because of its popularity with students, and a business course.

“First, it depends on the passage of the budget and second, student interest,” she said.

After Botka’s sessions, Barlow queried each group to learn how many are interested in learning the trade should Region 9 offer it. Several hands went up in each session.


Gammon said that should the budget be approved and enough students want to take both courses, they won’t hire a business instructor. The instructor who teaches the Region 9 computer technology course is also certified to teach business.

“If the budget passes and we have enough applications for culinary arts, then we’ll have to hire an educator,” Gammon said. “In any survey that we’ve done — five, 10 years ago and even before I was here — culinary arts is usually the top choice. We’re one of the very few technical education facilities in the state that doesn’t have it. It’s a very popular program.”

She said adding it to Region 9’s curriculum was initially reviewed when the school was under construction, but at the time it was decided that the necessary equipment was too costly.

“Since then, our instructors realize you make do with what you have, so each year, you build on your program,” Gammon said. “We have also shuffled things around so that we now have the space to provide it.”

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