Not every high school culinary arts program has a professional chef on staff — but Cleburne High School’s does.
Chef Adair Smith has spent much of the summer monitoring the final stages of the new and expanded cooking spaces for the advanced junior and senior culinary students he will be teaching and guiding. Smith was approved by trustees in June as an additional member of Cleburne’s Career and Technical Education faculty, joining forces with culinary arts teacher Margaret Alexander.
Smith’s CHS kitchen challenge will include guiding student chefs in the Practicum 3 and 4 classes through the business side of culinary arts and expanding on their cooking skills, which will be showcased in the on-campus restaurant opening in the second semester of the school year.
The renovation of the former main building on the CHS campus has included the construction of two industry-standard kitchens for culinary arts introductory classes and food science classes, a culinary kitchen for advanced students and the restaurant kitchen. Each learning space gleams with stainless steel appliances and counter tops against a background of white subway tile.
With 13 years as lead culinary arts instructor at Mansfield ISD’s Ben Barber Innovation Academy preceded by 18 years as a restaurant manager and owner, Smith brings a lot of experience to the table.
Mark McClure, CISD director of Career and Technical Education, said Smith’s years in both the restaurant industry and education made him a great choice to oversee the restaurant side of Cleburne’s culinary arts program, and instructing the students who will operate it.
“Our program has been primarily focused on catering jobs,” McClure said. “With our new facilities, including the plan for the student-run restaurant, we wanted to bring someone in with restaurant experience, along with cooking and management.
“With Chef Smith’s experience in the industry and the school setting, he can hit the ground running and give our students a true picture of being a chef and restaurant owner. We are very excited to have him on board.”
There will definitely be lots of things cooking this year, Smith said, who is ready to get down to work with his student chefs.
“What I think I bring to students is a passion for service, making people happy through food and good customer service,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be here. These new facilities are a piéce de résistance to me. I’ll retire here. That’s my goal — to spend the rest of my high school teaching career at CHS.”
Smith first visited the District during spring break where he toured the new Cleburne High School and the culinary labs under construction in the renovation of the former main building. The restaurant and the culinary kitchen are located in what had been the school library.
“I knew then I wanted really wanted to be here,” he said. “There was no equipment in place, but I could visualize how it would be. I’ve never seen a walk-in freezer and equipment like this in a high school.”
Despite numerous years as a chef, restaurant manager, managing partner and culinary arts instructor, Smith’s original career path didn’t involve food. He studied media arts, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, followed by work in video production.
But after sidebar job experiences at Chili’s and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, he chose to stay in the restaurant business, eventually moving into management and partnership roles with Boston Market, Kona Ranch, Razzoo’s Cajun Café, Corner Bakery and Pei Wei Asian Kitchen.
He would go on to choose a new item on his career menu when in 2007 he sampled life in the culinary classrooms at Mansfield ISD.
“I wasn’t sure I’d like it,” Smith said. “At the end of the year I received a note from a student telling me that because of his experiences in my class, he stayed in high school rather than dropping out, which was the direction he was headed.”
That student went on to graduate, followed by culinary school and is now a chef.
“I decided then that working with students was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was going to change lives,” Smith said. “Coming to Cleburne with the opportunity to work with students in opening a 100-seat restaurant is something I plan to attack with all my might.
“There is so much we can do with these facilities in our work with students, and bringing the community in to see all we do. I’d love to have us eventually offer adult cooking classes in the evening.”
But at the top of the list are his students and imparting all he can from his years in the business. That includes standing the heat in a kitchen that can sometimes get hot.
“The ones who want to be in here are going to thrive,” he said. “They are going to learn everything from cooking to management skills. They are going to learn how to communicate in an environment which can easily stress you out. These skills are very important in making our culinary restaurant the best in Cleburne — and that’s my goal.”
The first semester of the school year will have his culinary students learning their way around their new kitchens and equipment — from combi ovens and flame broilers to a 40-quart mixer and a 25-gallon tilting skillet.
“We’ve done a lot of work with Chef Smith in getting the restaurant and lab spaces completed,” McClure said. “He’s made some modifications to the plan to make things flow smoother and he’s kept an eye on the progress.”
Plans for the upcoming school year will also include competitive cooking. Among the casualties of the COVID-19 breakout was the premier of the new CHS barbecue team. A smoker was crafted by students in the agricultural mechanics class in anticipation of the team’s first competition season.
“I hear Margaret loves to compete, so I know she will be playing a major role in our competitive cooking events,” Smith said. “I also want to have Cleburne participating in the ProStart competition, which is a two-part event involving both management and cooking.”
Catering will remain a menu item in CHS Culinary Arts, with Smith’s desire to engage students in preparing and serving, while showcasing their skills.
“Catering will definitely be an aspect of our program,” he said. “We’ll start out catering for campus and district events. But I know once word gets out, we’ll be getting outside inquiries. We want to be as involved as possible in the community.”
Many of his new teammates at CHS have already stopped by to view the culinary kitchens — and see what’s cooking. News has gotten around about the chef’s chocolate chip and white chocolate cranberry cookies.
e made a batch for his fellow CTE teachers new to Cleburne this year, and with Alexander, has planned on whipping up another round for the entire campus staff.
“I’m excited to be across the hall from our culinary kitchen,” McClure said. “I’m a pizza lover and am ready to sample what comes out of the pizza oven we’ve installed in the restaurant kitchen.
“We’ll also see our students preparing some high-end and signature dishes. Everyone is very excited to see what our students will be learning and doing.”
Smith is excited to meet his culinary students and introduce them to their new kitchens which will soon be ringing with the sounds of “Yes, Chef!”
“You always have students who didn’t think this would be something they would do as a career, then they find it’s their passion,” he said. “They sink their teeth into it and take off.
“I want to be a mentor to these kids in all parts of their life, not just during their time in my classroom. I hope what they learn will carry into their lives as they continue on, no matter their careers.”
Lisa Magers | Cleburne ISD
Not every high school culinary arts program has a professional chef on staff — but there’s one at Cleburne High School. Adair Smith will be bringing his years of experience as a chef, restaurant manager and a culinary arts instructor as a new member of the CHS Career and Technical Education program.