Outstanding culinary arts student is on the cutting edge of a promising career

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Culinary arts education is very popular in high schools and career and technical schools in the Kansas City region. New programs are being established every year. DeLaSalle Education Center, Kansas City’s very successful alternative education charter school, launched an intensive, industry-sponsored program this school year, giving this week’s FOX 4 young achiever an opportunity to become a star at the stove.

Heavenly smells always seem to be wafting from the kitchen classroom at DeLaSalle Education Center. And when they do, sophomore Kahlil Johnson is usually in the mix. Whether it’s on appetizers like the cheesy avocado bites that got rave reviews at last month’s parent teacher conferences at DeLaSalle or entrees and desserts, Kahlil relishes putting his own unique spin on existing recipes or creating entirely new ones.

“It’s always really cool to be able to mix and match everything,” said Kahlil, this week’s FOX 4 Young Achiever. “That’s what kind of draws it home for me.”

Kahlil says he was inspired to get into the culinary arts by his stepfather who passed away three years ago. He cooked in a restaurant and encouraged Khalil to prepare meals with him in their kitchen at home.

“It’s like honoring my stepdad,” said Kahlil, “because he cooked really great and I just feel like I could carry that torch a bit.”

DeLaSalle launched its demanding ProStart culinary arts program this school year in partnership with the National Restaurant Association and its local members. Kahlil is a leader among the ten students handpicked by culinary arts teacher Teresa Kerns and the school’s college and career readiness coordinator to be pioneers in getting the program underway.

“We knew they were the cream of the crop,” said Kerns. “We knew they’d already had culinary arts. They were going to be great.”

Kahlil, in particular, earns praise as a good listener and an exceptionally quick learner with impressive knife skills. He loves to experiment, boldly improvising with ingredients and flavors to see what he can cook up – the spicier the better.

“Yes,” said Kerns with a laugh and a huge smile. “He’s very good at that. As soon as I can get him off the hot sauce, I’ll be fine.”

And after seven minutes in the oven for his cheesy avocado bites comes the irresistible opportunity for this reporter to sample Kahlil’s craftsmanship.

“Mmmmm. That’s delicious.”

Like the other students in the DeLaSalle ProStart program, Kahlil actually is already out into the real world of culinary. For the past several months he’s had a ProStart-required internship at Pierpont’s at Union Station.

“And they absolutely love him there,” said Kerns. Kahlil’s been interning one day a week at the fine dining steakhouse primarily at the front of the house and as a prep cook, willing to tackle any task.

“They tell me speed is everything, timing is everything,” said Khalil. “I learned that right off.” He’s done so well at Pierpont’s he now has been hired on for a regular job working weekends in the kitchen.

“I’m, like, pretty good all around,” said Kahlil. It’s powerful validation to Kahlil that that he has taken the right course.

“It’s something I love and something I would actually like to do,” said Kahlil. And proof that his stepdad’s encouragement was on target.

ProStart at most high schools is a two-year culinary education program but it’s greatly accelerated at DeLaSalle. Kahlil and the other students there are on the fast track to complete ProStart in just one year including the mandatory 400 mentored hours of restaurant work.

The 25th Annual DeLaSalle Movie Benefit was last Friday evening. The school raised nearly $280,000 toward its $350,000 goal. People are encouraged to help ensure the continued success of DeLaSalle students by donating at this link.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.