OTTUMWA — Tucked away in a corner of Ottumwa High School is a place where students can get the experience of running a real restaurant.

The five students in the Culinary Entrepreneurial Opportunities Class, which operates the Bulldog Café, all have different reasons for enrolling in the class. For Haley Heiss and Christian Trejo, it’s about building on a hobby. John Springer and Manuel Zesiger plan on continuing their culinary training after high school.

“Freshman year, I wanted to be a chef,” said Springer, a junior. “I decided to pursue that path and see how it is. It gives you a look at how it can be in restaurants.”

Markeyla Logan plans on taking a different path. The senior plans on pursuing a business degree with the goal of opening her own restaurant in Ottumwa that specializes in Chicago-style food.

“I’ve always had a passion for cooking at home,” she said. After taking Foods I and Foods II, she thought CEOC would be fun, but she does have one challenge: “Following the recipes. I have an eye for cooking. I can just look at something and tell how much to add.”

For others, the biggest challenge of the class is the book work and testing. Instructor Heather Crandall says the class is a dual enrollment course, meaning the students get both high school and college credit for the course. She said Mondays are set for work on the ServSafe program. Trejo and Heiss both said the test at the end of the program was the toughest part of the course for them.

The rest of the week is set for preparing dishes for Thursday’s Bulldog Café. Tuesday is a shopping day, with Wednesday set aside for prep work. Thursday is serving day, with three blocks of serving: 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and noon. Fridays are for cleanup.

“They spent the first two weeks of school deciding the menus for the year,” Crandall said. “The students do it all. I try to be as hands off as possible.”

Students get menu inspiration from a variety of sources. Trejo said they would look up different recipes and see what looked good and would be something the class would be capable of preparing. In some cases, family recipes of the students are chosen. Someone at home would prepare the dish, and the student would bring it to class for sampling.

The students have come up with a wide range of ideas. Heiss’ favorite meal was the one they prepared for the Iron Chef competition: flank steak with dolce de leche. Trejo particularly enjoyed a meal of tacos with Mexican rice and chips and salsa.

Zesiger said his favorite was the first meal of the year: burgers with jalepeños in them. “I thought that was really good,” he said.

Springer couldn’t choose a favorite. “It’s kind of hard to chose a favorite meal. We’ve had so many,” he said.

Logan’s favorite is yet to come. It’s a breakfast meal that will feature a glazed donut for a bun with eggs and choice of breakfast meat on top. Hash brown patties will be served on the side, and she thinks the beverage will likely be orange juice.

“I really like breakfast food, and it’s easy to make,” she said.

Despite the wide range of dishes, the weekly meals follow a basic plan. Crandall said there’s always an entree with a vegetarian option, one or two side dishes and dessert.

In addition to all the menu planning, the students have to take special dietary needs into account and make adjustments, Crandall said. Although the students might not always like it, “That’s the real world,” she said. “You have to adjust.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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