AUGUSTA — Walking into the kitchen at the Capital Area Technical Center on Food Truck Day, it is hard to distinguish the high school kitchen and the students inside it from an episode of “Hell’s Kitchen,” or “Heidi’s Kitchen,” as the students call it.

Students in the classroom-based kitchen can be heard blurting “Behind you!” and “Corner!” as the air fills with the smell of smoked barbecue pork ribs from the food truck — actually, a large, black food trailer — parked outside the classroom.

Heidi Parent, co-director of the CATC culinary arts program, and her partner, Co-Director Patrick Austin, oversee the Culinary 1 and 2 classes at the tech school. Students in those classes run a food trailer Fridays from May through the end of the school year in June. They are responsible for everything, including butchering and smoking the meat and preparing the side dishes.

Teachers then position for a spot on Parent’s list to receive a package of food that will feed a family of four for $30, prepared and cooked by the students. On the menu last Friday: BBQ pork ribs, potato salad, Mexican street corn, otherwise known as elote, cornbread muffins, and oatmeal cream pie cookies.

Parent said the menu rotates weekly, and last week it included brisket.

“We usually sell out in about an hour,” she said. “I sent it out (Wednesday), and I try to do it at different times of the day so people have a chance in the evening or afternoon, but it always sells out. Teachers end up coming to my door asking if they can get on a waitlist.”


Kamryn Dube warns classmates Friday that she is coming around the corner with a tray of hot cookies at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. In the background, London Putnam prepares to put another tray of cookies into the oven. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

CATC bought the food trailer with COVID-19 pandemic relief money. Parent said such a truck or trailer was her dream when she envisioned the culinary arts program.

Parent said her goal is to teach students to cook innovatively and be prepared for any challenge when they leave her classroom. Parent would love to run a restaurant with the students, but said catering or a food trailer is more realistic for when students are at school.

The Capital Area Technical Center at 7 Pierce Drive is a regional technical school that serves eight schools across central Maine. It offers courses, such as auto technology, early childhood education, and other career-oriented training to prepare students for life and work after graduation.

Parent shared the dream with Nicholas Gannon, director of the technical school when he came on board in 2019. Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and while the future of the restaurant business was unknown, outdoor dining was taking off.

When CATC received pandemic relief funding, Gannon asked Parent if she wanted to buy a food truck or trailer. She was thrilled and found one through a friend in the restaurant business, who was in the process of selling his $50,000 barbecue smoker food trailer.  

The culinary arts program has two courses, Culinary 1 and 2, and juniors can either begin with Culinary 1 and take Culinary 2 their senior year, or only take Culinary 1 their senior year. The program runs daily, and students are bused in from their sending schools for the morning or afternoon class. 


The nearly 40 students in the program run the food trailer in the summer, in addition to their regular studies in the culinary arts classroom, which includes “mystery baskets,” in which students are responsible for including a random food item in their meals, preparing food for events and overall instruction on food safety. 

“It was outside, so it worked. We could have an outdoor dining service,” Parent said. “We didn’t know how long the (COVID-19) regulations would be, and we were social distancing, where we couldn’t have anyone in the building. The potential to have people come outside and serve food was there.” 

Emma Partridge left, and Reid Willette scoop elote, a grilled corn side dish, into a container Friday at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Parent said that eventually when she “gains more confidence” in towing the food trailer, she would love to set it up at the high schools in the area for community events and catering.

Drew Parker, a senior at Cony High School in Augusta who plans to attend Southern Maine Community College, said the culinary arts program at CATC has been “life-changing” by expanding his love of cooking. He now cooks meals for his family that he learned in class, including steak Diane, which is traditionally made with a thinly pounded steak and a cognac, butter, and shallot sauce that is flambéed.

Parker said the food trailer had been his favorite experience of the class in his two years in the program. 

“It definitely prepares us for the real world,” he said. “In both years that I have been here, it has been the best part. We start early, at 8 a.m.”


And Parent, he said, “trusts us to temperature the meat and helps us actively train.” 

Seniors who graduate from the CATC culinary arts program leave ServSafe certified, which is needed by at least one person at every restaurant across Maine to ensure the safety and cleanliness of food. With the certification, those who continue onto a higher education program in culinary arts will remove a class from their collegiate requirements.

Anjee Clavet cuts a slab of ribs Friday inside the food trailer at the Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Most of the seniors in the CATC culinary arts program said they plan to attend Southern Maine Community College for culinary arts. Some said they plan to jump directly into the industry if they do not attend college. 

Reid Willete and Rylee Theriault, both seniors at Gardiner Area High School, said they enjoy running the food trailer because it broadens their experiences. Willete and Theriault plan to attend Southern Maine Community College for culinary arts. Theriault seeks to be a baker and Willete enjoys butchering, which he learned from his father through hunting. 

“I think (the food trailer) is a whole new way of learning, and good for us to get out of our comfort zone,” Theriault said. “We always cook delicious food, and we can always sneak a few things, too.”

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