Newswise — GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Brandi Smith, 17 and a senior in the culinary arts program at Dunnellon High School, dreams of one day being accepted into the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. A program at her high school has set her on that path.

“Culinary arts is the one thing I have always loved doing,” said Smith, who is set to graduate in May.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program and Marion County Public Schools is helping Brandi achieve that dream. She is one of about 400 students who, in the last four years, have passed through the food service program at Dunnellon High. As part of that class, Nancy Gal, a UF/IFAS Extension agent in Marion County, prepares students for a rigorous certification exam.

Chef Melissa Mosby teaches four classes each quarter to students at Dunnellon High, training them to work in restaurants and for catering businesses. Students can take Culinary Arts I, II, II and IV, which is an honors course. At the end of the program, Gal proctors the certification exam ServSafe®, a test for managers from the National Restaurant Association’s Food Safety Program.

“This prepares youth to be productive members of the food service workforce,” said Gal, noting there are typically anywhere from 18 to 36 students in each class. “They need the confidence and skills to succeed.”

The program is a community partnership between the Marion County School District, UF/IFAS Extension and the National Restaurant Association. Mosby teaches, Gal reviews for the certification exam, Dunnellon High allows the use of a kitchen classroom at the school and textbooks are provided by the association. Students are required to know the material in 10 chapters. The final exam is a 90-question, multiple-choice test.Mosby, along with Gal, teaches everything from food safety, safe preparation and plating – the art of making food look beautiful when it is served.

“The UF/IFAS Extension program is important to me and my students because it provides a thorough review of the ServSafe® material,” Mosby said. “The presentation and the handouts given to my program are truly beneficial to the future success of my students.”

Mosby and Gal said the program at DHS provides students with the hands-on experience they need to land real-world jobs in the restaurant industry. It also allocates college credit for students majoring in hospitality or culinary arts.

Gal noted that there are a range of salaries for people in the cooking industry:– Chefs and head cooks at better restaurants – $42,570– Supervisors – $32,290– Cooks in restaurants – $23,230– Cooks at institutions – $21,780.

Classes cost $165 per student, but are covered by the school; students pay nothing. In the four years Gal has administered the program, passing rates have increased each year:2012 – 83 percent2013 – 83 percent2014 – 89 percent2015 – 96 percent

For Brandi, it is all about getting that real-world experience.

“My goal is that, one day, I will become an executive chef, preferably on Disney Cruise Lines,” Brandi said.

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, k.moore.wilmoth@ufl.eduSources: Nancy Gal, 352-392-1781, lifewalk@ufl.eduMelissa Mosby, Melissa.Mosby@marion.k12.fl.us