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By Marissa Garcia, Santa Barbara Education Foundation

According to Wikipedia, a secret ingredient is sometimes the component that “makes a noticeable difference in the way a product performs, looks or tastes.”

For some students in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the “secret ingredient” to their high school career are the Culinary Arts programs offered at San Marcos High School, Dos Pueblos High School, and Santa Barbara High School. Students describe the program as a “happy place” that provides real hands-on experience for a potential career path all while improving their social skills. The program also allows students to get ahead by providing six units of transferable academic course credit.

“This is one of my options for my career so it would be good to know how to expand and cook different things,” said Guadalupe Muniz a culinary arts student of three years at San Marcos High School.

Each high school runs its own culinary arts program that teaches students life skills they can use in the food industry—if they choose.

The programs serve as career technical education courses where students learn safety and sanitation, knife skills, food handling, measurements, and basic cooking methods. Once students complete their ServSafe Food Handler Certification, they are able to apply their knowledge in the kitchen where they learn how to bake delicious treats, compile fresh salads and whip up soups and entrées. Students also have the option to complete their ServSafe Manager Certification which verifies the individual has sufficient knowledge to be a manager at a restaurant.

At San Marcos High School the program is designed to give students a real working experience where they are required to volunteer their time serving at their kitchen and café, known as “Café Royale,” as well as two events during the semester. Chef Educator Donna Barker is working to expand the program with more field trips, guest speakers and internship opportunities.

“I want students to be able to leave here with a resume that shows important work within our community,” said Barker.

Students in the program expressed that culinary arts is their escape at school and allows them to explore what they love.

“This is the reason I like school because I feel like school, or some subjects, are kind of boring,” said Paola Flores, a culinary arts student at San Marcos. “Being able to come to culinary is fun.”

This year, students in the culinary arts programs at San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara High School were able to showcase their talents at the Santa Barbara Education Foundation’s 2019 HOPE Awards. Students catered to over 200 guests by serving food they prepared as well as food that was donated by Via Maestra 42, Eureka, Industrial Eats, Enterprise Fish Company and more.

“We have been doing HOPE for five years now, it’s one of our favorite events,” said Barker. “We are always pleased to help out, cook for, and talk to the people.”

Santa Barbara Education Foundation promotes private support of Santa Barbara’s public education system, serving over 15,000 students in 22 schools. For more information, visit