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Erica Stilley serves guests at the Friday luncheon from the new outdoor culinary center’s kitchen. Stilley wears a black jacket representing her second-year culinary student status. First-year culinary students don white jackets, while third-years get their choice of color.

A new hub of opportunity officially opened Friday for EHS students during a ribbon cutting for a new outdoor culinary center. 

To kick off the ceremony, culinary students prepared and served a luncheon for students, staff and community partners involved in the creation of this outdoor space that includes a kitchen and dining area.

High school senior and culinary arts student Erica Stilley said this new culinary space will provide many opportunities she and her fellow students might have never otherwise gotten. 

“This is a new learning environment for us, so it’s kind of teaching us how to cook on the grill and how to serve in this outdoor environment,” she said.  “I could see us doing more events out here.” 

Alongside a large grill, the newly-dubbed Outdoor Learning & Culinary Arts Center also has a smoker that students can use. Stilley said these appliances are essential in giving her and other students learning experiences that they can’t find in their regular indoor kitchen and classroom. 

“I think it is really important because a lot of our students -- just being able to expand their horizons and just being able to learn something new -- especially like this is a really big deal for us,” Stilley said. 

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Jack Low speaks Friday afternoon at EHS for the opening of the school’s new culinary arts center. Featured in the outdoor space is a grill, a smoker and a dining area.

Chef and culinary arts teacher Jack Low said one of the many new skills students will gain from the outdoor kitchen space revolves around actual customer service work students would do in a culinary career. His background in the culinary field aids in his daily lessons.

“One of the great things that you take away from most of the teachers here is that they have a lot of personal experience they involve in their classroom teachings, which is more real life and not just the kind of book learning,” he said. 

Low said he makes a point of emphasizing customer service in cooking, as oftentimes the face-to-face customer interaction is missing for back-of-house employees like chefs. The work the students do in culinary arts classrooms requires a high level of communication, as does actual food service work. 

Low hopes the outdoor space can continue to expand, potentially adding a pizza oven and brick façade in the future. Increasing the learning opportunities in the outdoor kitchen and upping the time spent outdoors reflects recent trends in the restaurant industry, which is what Low wants his students to learn. 

“Especially since COVID hit, a lot of restaurants have gone to the patio and to the outdoorsy kind of feel, and this kind of helps with that,” he said. “Doing events outside, learning to do those things -- especially in restaurants -- that helps a lot.”

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EHS students cut a ribbon to officially open the culinary center for the school. Students and faculty were treated to a luncheon prepared by culinary arts students prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Eudora Schools Foundation Executive Director Shanda Hurla also acknowledged the benefits of outdoor learning at the high school. 

“Broadly, you are seeing the importance and the need for outdoor learning areas. That’s happening across the state. It was happening pre-COVID,” she said.

There are mental health benefits to being able to spend time outside as opposed to spending all day indoors, and being able to divide up the day with different learning environments can be conducive to a student’s day, she said. 

Among the people who aided in the funding and building of the outdoor space were many local community partners. Hamm Inc. provided concrete and excavation work for the site, and ATEC Services supplied electrical work. Many of the center's features, such as benches and tables made from old tires, were paid for by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment LiveWell grant. 

“We are so grateful for our community because they really believe in what we’re doing,” Hurla said. 

This is something the entire community can make use of and rejoice in having available, she said.

“It’s fantastic to have things to celebrate,” she said. “It feels really good to celebrate great things happening in our communities and schools, and this culinary arts and learning center -- being able to have a place for our students and staff to come out and learn is a really huge thing.” 

Reach reporter Emily Binkley at eudoratimes@gmail.com.

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