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This is not your mother’s high school cooking class. Students enrolled in Culinary Arts at Sisters High School learn to make foods like curry, pizza and calzones from scratch.

There is dancing, singing and background music.

There are field trips to local markets to learn about making healthier food choices. (Tip: Shop on the outer edges of the store where healthier foods are. Avoid the center aisles – that’s where they keep the processed foods.)

There are discussions about food safety and cleaning, quality vs. cost, canned vs. fresh.

And there is eating, of course.

The class is taught by chef and restaurant owner T.R. McCrystal. McCrystal is the former executive chef of the iconic Deschutes Brewing Company. He and his wife Jennifer ran the former Jen’s Garden and currently own and operate Cottonwood Café.

McCrystal is charming and funny and the kids love him.

“It’s fun to know how to use stuff in the kitchen and Mr. McCrystal is super funny and fun,” said SHS junior Sophie Winter. “Ask him to break out some dance moves.”

McCrystal enlightens students on the importance of quality and texture and variations in flavor between foods made from scratch and those that come in a can or box.

His students spent a recent week making chili and jalapeno corn bread from scratch. He wanted to show them how the chili flavors changed over time. He then opened up a can of premade chili so they could compare their homemade versions against the canned.
The chili they made was much more flavorful, they all agreed.

“Our chili had a lot more variation and texture than the store bought version,” said freshman Keaton Green.

McCrystal is aiming to instill a love of cooking, more discriminating palates and awareness of why fresher is usually healthier.

It seems to be working.

“Parents tell me their kids love the class and are cooking more at home,” McCrystal said.

The proof, it seems, is in the pudding.

SHS sophomore Evan Kolar chimed in “My mom is the only one who cooks in my family and I like to help her out. I made wonderful chicken and pizza, spaghetti and gnocchi and she’s really impressed.”