For their part in Merced High School's Career and Technical Education Fair on Tuesday, John Cortinas, Samantha Payne and Rocco Manzone put forth their best jambalaya, sliced pork, rice and carrots to impress the visitors.
Then they topped it all off with chocolate cake.
The Merced High seniors are part of the school's Culinary Cafe and intend to pursue careers in gourmet food preparation.
They served the meal to about 60 educators and community leaders observing how the campus prepares students for the work world and sought-after professions as part of its career fair.
Cortinas, 17, wants to open his own restaurant after he gets a bachelor's degree and goes to cooking school. He has been cooking for his family since he was 6 years old. He likes seafood and anything spicy, particularly Mexican dishes.
Culinary arts instructor Andrew Calzadillas said his job is to teach students the basics and then let them experiment.
"They've created some pretty neat stuff," Calzadillas said. "We have a diverse, multicultural group of students who incorporate their cultures into different foods and come up with really good dishes."
Along with culinary arts, Tuesday's career fair highlighted 17 classes covering marketing, environmental horticulture, agriculture, floral design, creative design and merchandising, virtual enterprise, health care, business office skills and graphic arts.
Scott Scambray, Merced Union High School District superintendent, said not everybody is going to college and just 35 percent of jobs need a four-year degree. He said half of the jobs that will appear in the next 15 years haven't been invented yet.
Payne, 17, hopes to own her own catering company or become a culinary arts instructor like Calzadillas. She plans to attend Le Cordon Bleu College in Sacramento in July.
She said she likes working her with hands and has become good at making pizzas. Payne admitted working in the kitchen is stressful but insisted it is a good learning experience.
Culinary Cafe students cater events for clubs, she said, and in doing so need to learn to manage their time and handle many aspects of running a business.
Manzone, 18, likes to make Caesar salads. He is leaning toward becoming a chef or nutritionist, and said the challenge is ensuring everything is done right.
He enjoys cooking healthy alternatives, such as grilling chicken and making brown rice.
Calzadillas, a Merced High teacher for five years, has 108 students in an introduction to foods class, 60 students in a Culinary Arts 1 class and 25 students in the advanced Culinary Cafe class.
It's not a snap for students to come up with some of the dishes. They have learned to make pasta from scratch as well as their own soup stocks and sauces, Calzadillas said.
Students then come up with a menu and promote it to teachers.
Calzadillas, 46, said he has wanted to cook since he was young and worked in the food and fine dining industry for 16 years before going into education.
He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College in San Francisco.
Dina Faretta, the district's career-technical education coordinator, praised the career exhibits in the school gym.
The career fair was the culmination of the observance of February as Career Technical Education month.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at
(209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.