Mullen named PCHS Teacher of the Month

Teresa Mullen
Teresa Mullen

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

ProStart teacher Teresa Mullen was named Pocahontas County High School teacher of the month for December.

In her sixth year as a teacher at the school, Mullen said it wasn’t the path she planned to take, but it is a path she is glad she chose.

“This was not my life plan,” she said. “The food service industry is non-stop, all the time – no holidays off, no weekends off – so I thought it would be nice to teach culinary for a little while and it would be a nice little break. It’s definitely not a break. I put in more time now than I did in the industry.”

Although her initial plan didn’t quite work, Mullen said she is happy as a culinary teacher, mainly because she gets to see her students’ food passions grow, much in the way her own passion grew as a culinary student.

“I enjoy my students,” she said. “I think my favorite part is watching them grow. When you watch a student really understand something for the first time – you can show them something a hundred times – but when they can actually do it themselves, that’s the best part.”

Mullen has upper level students who work with her beginners and she enjoys watching the students take on a teaching role.

ProStart’s main focus is learning to cook, but that isn’t all the students learn from Mullen. The curriculum includes everything a students needs to know about the food service industry.

“I think it’s a huge misconception that ProStart is like home cooking,” she said. “It is very much one hundred percent food service industry. They have to learn how to do food cost percentages and menu design. They have to learn proper service as far as dining room service and customer service. They have to learn proper table settings, everything.”

ProStart is a great way to introduce students to the food service industry, but Mullen said, it doesn’t fully prepare them to start a restaurant straight out of high school.

“I would never suggest leaving any type of high school program and going out to open a restaurant,” she said. “I would definitely suggest that they get a job in the industry or go to culinary school, something like that. Our program here is to introduce them to culinary arts so they can either decide that they want to go to culinary school and get that upper level knowledge or they can go into the food service industry and work their way up.”

Along with classroom work, several students are on a team which competes throughout the year. The team is preparing for three competitions coming up in the next few months.

“The first competition they have is the Junior Cast Iron Cook-off, and it works with Farm-to-Table and the nutrition office,” Mullen said. “Kim McComb is actually coming with us because we have to have a cafeteria staff member.”

The team must also have an agriculture student and, of course, ProStart students. The competition calls for the team to create an appetizer, entrée and dessert, all of which must follow the West Virginia Department of Education nutritional guidelines.

“They have an hour and they’re not allowed to use any electricity,” Mullen said. “We have to submit all of their ingredients, all of their recipes and they’ll be checked. It is put through the nutrition calendar, so anything they make at this competition could be recreated in the schools.”

The second competition is the National Restaurant Association Hospitality Cup which is very competitive. A team of five students will have an hour to make an appetizer, entrée and dessert.

“The points spread between a first place and a seventh place team is maybe a few points,” Mullen said. “They’re judged on everything from presentation to safety and sanitation to knife skills. They’re also judged on product check-in – how everything looks when they get there. It’s very, very intense. They’ve been practicing for that competition since the beginning of the year.”

The final competition is SkillsUSA – one student will compete in savory and one will compete in baking. Students in each category will be given four hours to prepare their creations.

While she teaches the students all forms of cooking – savory, sweet, international – Mullen said she enjoys baking and making pastries the most.

In class, Mullen teaches baking, but some of the techniques included in sweet culinary arts are not included.

“I would like to teach sugar art, and I would like to teach ice sculpture,” she said. “I teach sugar art for the students at the Hospitality Summit that we go to, but it’s not part of the curriculum. Sugar sculptures, ice carving, chocolate sculptures and wedding cake design are the types of things that are refined when they go to culinary school or into the industry. I talk about them, but I don’t teach them.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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