Not far from downtown San Diego, in the heart of Barrio Logan, there are students learning to cook in an unconventional culinary classroom. It’s part of the new California Culinary Arts Institute for adults at 1620 National Ave.
The school has adult students working for cooking and baking certifications during the week. But on the weekends, children are now the special ingredient in this community of learning.
“They’re like my own children,” said Sohrob Zardkoohi, the school’s director and Executive Chef instructor. “I love to teach them because I think I’m creating a difference in their lives.”
Eleven-year-old Carlos Sandoval is a chef in the making. He’s one of Zardkoohi’s star students. Sandoval is a sixth-grade student at Avondale Elementary. In the chaos of a commercial kitchen,he has learned his lessons well.
His latest assignment is preparing and displaying a dinner meal with Salisbury steak and vegetables.
“When you’re plating something you have to be organized, very organized," he said. "You don’t just put the food on the plate. You have to be presentative.”
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He spends at least 10 hours a weekend plating and learning the art of cooking. The California Culinary Arts Institute now offers a six-week program catering to kids ages 10 to 16. His father is his inspiration.
“He always wanted to be a chef one day,” Sandoval said. “He didn’t have the opportunity to be a chef. So, I want to accomplish his dreams as mine.”
Chef Zardkoohi is an immigrant from Iran who also spent many years training in Spain before moving to the U.S. He’s been cooking since he was 6 years old. His culinary story is also a love story.
“Every time my mother cooked I looked first for the leftovers, and I wanted to eat the leftovers because I appreciated what she had done," he said. "I didn’t want them to be left without attention.”
The school in Barrio Logan is a neighbor to culture and the crisis of homelessness. Tents belonging to homeless people line the streets just a block away. But in those encampments, there could come future success stories created in the kitchen.
The regular tuition for the extensive cooking program is $1,200.
Zardkoohi and his team are making plans for scholarships to include the homeless and other students who need financial help. He will also hire those in need to staff an outdoor patio restaurant with all proceeds going to homeless programs and other charities.
“When ability comes in, responsibility should kick in as well,” Zardkoohi said, “so if God made me available to have this school, I don’t want to be the only one who gets the benefit.”
Danika Maytorena is almost 10 years old. On her first day of cooking, she made crème brûlée.
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“You have to put a little bit of fire on it and it turns like brown,” she said. Maytorena said she has cooked pancakes, cookies, and tortillas at home. She wants to own a restaurant someday.
“I want to make my own food and desserts. Like soup, tacos, pizza, and cheeseburgers,” she said, smiling proudly.
Cooking with love is a universal lesson. According to Chef Zardkoohi, “you touch this food with a passion to care for someone because you love that someone, it tastes different.”
The California Culinary Arts Institute begins its next six-week cooking session for teens and kids on March 19.
For more information visit californiaculinaryarts.com