"When people come here for the first time," Warren County Career Center Food Service director Sylvia Larson says, "they call it the best kept secret.
has headed the Career Center's
prestigious Food Services program and the adjoining Hill Top restaurant for the last 14 years.She
has watched the program grow from 14 students to 44 in a state of the art kitchen that dwarfs most - if not all - commercial restaurants in Warren County.It's a giant operation, turning out top-notch education to students interested in all that is food.
According to Larson
, 80 to 85 percent of her
students have gone on pursue post-secondary education in the culinary arts and hotel/restaurant management.
"There isn't any better of a profession," Larson
Juniors move on to soups and stocks, meat identification, hazard analysis and critical control point training (maintaining safety zones, etc.), cold foods, etc. Seniors are "totally in (food) production," Larson
says."They begin to get into management, do budgeting and order foods.They start menu planning."
In all, Larson
says, it's a complete experience for pre-culinary students.
"There's so much that they go through," she
The program's two assistants, Dorothy Neese and Kim Swedler, help Larson
with instruction in the kitchen area and Hill Top dining room.
"Oh, we've been blessed," Larson
says of the program's outstanding kitchen.
"We do everything from scratch," Larson
says."That's how they learn."
According to Larson
, the Hill Top is designed to provide an elegant dining experience."We pride ourselves in showing the fine dining aspects of our restaurant," she
says that the Hill Top is happy to host local organizations such as the Jaycees, but only once a year.
"We don't like to take the business away from the downtown.We do it to allow people to see what these students are capable of," she
"They are extremely proud of what they do," Larson
says."That's what makes this so enjoyable."
A group of eight to 10 local restaurant owners, managers and chefs serve as an advisory board for the program.
"They discuss the curriculum, what they want to see and what the business field needs," Larson
says."They're extremely happy with the program."
Advisors also present lectures on various techniques and subjects in the classroom.
"They bring their expertise into the classes, which is great," Larson
And the students take that expertise back to local businesses.Some current local employers of the program's students include Snuffy's, Burger King
, Little Caesar's, Ralph E's Pub, Dino's Catering and Docksiders.
Career Center graduates have gone on to attend school at Mercyhurst, Johnson & Wales
, the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute
and Williamsport School of Technology
"It's a difficult program," Larson
says."I'm hard on them.