Home economics calls to mind retro images of a bespectacled, elderly matron teaching teenage girls learning how to hard-boil eggs. Today, Americans are fascinated with food and cooking has been become a national pastime. Add to the recipe growing concern over nutrition and obesity among teenagers, and it's clear teaching cooking in public high school is an idea worth revisiting.
No one knows this better than Stacy Chatfield, or "Chatty" as she is known by students. Chatfield, a graduate of the Culinary Institute at Greystone, is entering her 13th year heading the culinary arts program at Fortuna High School. It's a far cry from your grandma's home ec class — rather than preparing young women to manage households, Chatfield's students train for and learn about employment in the food industry, from donning chef's whites to writing cookbooks. Chatfield, whose position is funded by the Humboldt County Office of Education, has seen her alumni head to culinary schools from Napa to New York City, and several have become successful chefs. Even for students going onto traditional colleges or other career paths, knowing how to break down a chicken in 15 minutes is handy.
The three levels of culinary classes involve progressively more complex dishes and skills, as well as earning food handling and safety certificates. Students also whip up three-course meals on butane burners before a panel of judges in the annual Teen Chef Competition in Pasadena or San Francisco, where the Huskies have made it to the top five. Out of 30 teams, Fortuna High School is the only representative from rural Northern California. "We're the total underdogs," Chatfield says. The winning team scores full-ride culinary school scholarships and she's optimistic about their chances this year.
Chatfield's advanced culinary students gain serving experience, too, catering events from McKinleyville to Garberville. Along with prep and service, they assist Chatfield with menu planning, budgeting and coordination for parties, chamber mixers, the annual Teacher of the Year ceremony and the $6 Friday lunch offered to Fortuna High School staff. All that catering pays for an end of the year trip — to San Francisco noodle houses, Jewish delis in New York City, pizzerias in Chicago and, in 2014, New Orleans.
After graduating with three years of Culinary Arts under their belts, some of Chatfield's students have credited the program with kick-starting their careers. Class of 2013 grad Brina Moore says Chatfield's class brought students from different backgrounds together, "showing us we all had the same thing in common: our love of food."
Whip up this tomato tart, à la Fortuna High, with heirloom tomatoes and local goat cheese. Invite the neighbors over — they'll never believe you learned to bake this in home ec.
Oven-dried Tomato Tart with Goat Cheese
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Ingredients and method:
For the crust
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons un-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium heirloom (or your garden variety) tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
For the custard
1 ½ tablespoons minced scallions
7 ounces mild, soft goat cheese, mashed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, minced
Combine the flour and salt in a food processor. Add the shortening and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the butter, pulsing only until butter is roughly incorporated. The mixture will still look uneven. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and pulse again. Add more ice water, pulsing carefully after each addition until the dough starts to come together. Don't overmix. As soon as rough dough forms, turn it out on floured surface and pat the dough into a 1-inch disk, cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil brushed with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with oil, vinegar and thyme. Place the tomatoes cut side up, on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Bake until they begin to shrink and are slightly dried but still soft, about 30 minutes. Cool the tomatoes on the sheet. (The tomatoes can be done a day ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.)
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface for a 12-inch circle. Transfer it to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing the pastry firmly into the pan. Trim the overhang to ½ to ¾ inch. Fold the overhang in and press. Chill the crust for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 375 F. Line the pastry with foil and fill with dried beans, pie weights or pie chain. Bake until the crust is set, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights (they'll be hot). Bake about 12 minutes longer, until the crust edges are golden, piercing with a fork if the crust bubbles. Cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
Whisk together the scallion, goat cheese, eggs, cream, minced basil, salt and pepper until the mixture is smooth.
Spread the custard evenly over the crust and arrange the tomatoes on top. Bake the tart in the middle of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the custard is lightly golden and set. Remove the tart carefully from the baking sheet and let it cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Garnish with the basil and serve it at room temperature.