Spicing up Learning at Bunche
Chef David Isenberg, Culinary Program Director at Ralph J Bunche High, has 35 principals coming for lunch and he needs his culinary pathway students to hustle.
With an 11:30 a.m. meal setup time written on the whiteboard, Chef Isenberg greets each arriving student by name, hands them a white cooking jacket and starts giving assignments: cleaning vegetables, chopping, stirring, marinating and staying on schedule.
They’re preparing to impress with a menu of caesar salad, grilled chicken breast with sundried tomato cream sauce, black beluga lentils with brunoise of celery, carrots and onions and sautéed squash with bell pepper and onion. Along with the hands-on skills they gain, the continuation school students have the opportunity to earn SafeServ certification required by most employers and college credit through dual-enrollment culinary classes.
This is the first year of the culinary pathway program which is made possible by Measure N funds as a centerpiece of Bunche’s complete curriculum re-design. Chef Isenberg infuses the first culinary pathway at OUSD with big goals, applying his 23 years of management and 15 years of teaching experience at Le Cordon Bleu to a brand new environment.
“I have so much energy, I just can’t wait to get here in the morning,” he said, amidst the flurry of activity. “If these kids are interested in culinary, I’m gonna make sure they have the skills so they can go out and get a job,” he said. The work of encouraging and creating opportunity for his students provides Chef Isenberg the kind of inspiration that he found lacking in private industry.
“I was 44 years old when I decided to make a major change, so I ended up quitting my business job and working in a homeless kitchen for about six months. I realized I loved it and that I should go to school and learn how to cook professionally.” David enrolled in a two-year program at Le Cordon Bleu, while gaining experience in catering and restaurants positions.
“One day I ran into the Executive Chef at Le Cordon Bleu and he said ‘Hey, did you ever think about teaching?’ and I said ‘Oh yeah, that would be a dream.’ At the time they were starting a program with associate chef instructors, which was a chance to be like a teacher’s assistant for guys that were my instructors. So I applied and that turned into 14 years as a chef instructor.”
Before the school was sold in 2015, Chef Isenberg started a Certified Technical Education (CTE) credential program at UC Berkeley. “CTE programs take experts in their field and teach them how to teach” he explained, “and through that program I made a connection with an educator at OUSD who introduced me to Bunche.”
His first task working with Principal Betsye Steele was designing and equipping a kitchen for the culinary program as the centerpiece of the new curriculum model in use this year. Part of the challenge of year one is that progress on the new kitchen has been slow and space in the temporary culinary classroom is limited, but that hasn’t curbed the enthusiasm of the cooks.
“My goal here is to get that kitchen built; these kids are going to have real food to eat. My students are always hungry, like all kids. We make good food and eat it together, like clam chowder and vegetable soup.” Eventually, the plan is for his students to prepare Bunche Breakfast in the morning and meals for the entire school to share.
“I am so excited to be here at Bunche, it’s a really unique place,” he said with conviction. “It’s unique because the teachers care. We take these kids and just surround them with love. We have so much fun and I feel like I’m really making a difference.”