The Kitchen Mentor

One teacher helps shape Las Vegas’ next generation of chefs

Photos by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

It’s a Thursday morning, and Silverado High School’s Advanced Culinary Studies class is preparing its weekly lunch service of three courses from scratch for faculty and guests. In the midst of a crowded, hectic kitchen, a student is informing her teacher, Ann Taylor, that the heated chocolate she just put into a squeeze-bottle is still too thick to decorate the dessert.

“I can microwave it,” the student suggests. Taylor looks skeptical, but the budding chef assures her it’s worked in the past. Taylor tells her to give it a try and moves on to the next crisis.

“This station needs to be wiped down!” Taylor shouts, her voice cutting through the din of clanging pots and pans. That gets everyone’s attention. The next day, when I ask the students what their teacher brings to the class, they jokingly respond, “Her voice.” When I ask them to describe that voice, almost in unison, they say, “Loud!”

Photos by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

Nobody minds Taylor’s penchant for volume, however. They know her words will help them achieve their long-term goals, which aren’t modest. When I ask senior Esteban Rodriguez Fernandez what he wants to do when he graduates, he’s not shy. “One day I will be a master chef,” he says without hesitation.

Since 2001, Taylor has helmed Silverado’s culinary arts program, which is geared toward making that a very realistic dream. She teaches four levels of classes. Depending on their level of participation, students can receive state certification for their career and technical education, certification in the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program, the ServSafe food-handling program and college credit. They also run the Thursday lunch service and provide catering services.

Photos by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

Advanced students can try out for spots on the school’s culinary teams. Both a cooking and a management team (which designs a restaurant concept) are entered into the state competition to go to the ProStart series, which awards culinary scholarships to the winners. In preparation, Taylor meets with the cooking team at 5:30 a.m. every day to practice. The 2012 cooking team and the 2013 management team both advanced to the nationals.

Over the past 13 years, about 80 percent of the students who have completed Taylor’s advanced program went on to work in the culinary field. When I ask her for individual success stories, she excitedly points to a wall of photos of some her most inspiring alumni.

That includes Michael Hadobas, who approached Taylor with his parents while he was still in eighth grade to apply for her program because he wanted to be a pastry chef. After graduating in 2007, and later attending college with ProStart scholarships, he now serves as head pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut in Singapore—at the age of 23.

There’s also Rusty Santiago, who’s working at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill in the Cosmopolitan, and Rick Bools, who graduated last year and is at Andre’s in Monte Carlo while he attends culinary school and is preparing to travel with chef Andre Rochat to Alaska for more training.

“What she’s done,” Bools says of his former teacher, “is frigging amazing. I couldn’t ever thank her enough. She’s pretty much become a second mom to all of us.”