April Barney is Prepping Skyline Kids for Life in the Kitchen, and Living It Herself (Interview)
Chef April Barney might be the busiest chef in Dallas. Her primary staff includes students at Skyline High School, but her clientele in the evening and on weekends can vary, depending on which local chef has swooped her up to help with an event. During the summer she helped orchestrate the kitchen madness at Fork Fight in Trinity Groves, in addition to any other culinary event, plus a pop-up dinner at Ten Bells Tavern.
Now that school is back in session she'll lead her students through a culinary program that will teach them essential elements of running a kitchen -- from inventory management, POS system, to plating food -- in hopes of preparing them for a job after school.
As part of the curriculum, Barney and her students run the Skyline Raider Café, which is a full-service restaurant on campus that is open to the public. Here's our chat about the cafe, the on-campus garden, how to fix a cut with super glue and many other fascinating things.
Can anyone eat at the Skyline Raider Cafe? We're open two days a week and anyone can go. But, we spend the first six weeks of school getting ready. The kids are learning everything from the menu, POS system, prep list, inventory, and they're getting their certifications. Then, in October we'll open two days a week and anyone can come from 11 am to 1 pm. We have a pretty extensive menu and average about 85 covers a day.
Can students eat there? No, because we can't compete with the cafeteria, but we get a lot of the staff and faculty. Teachers only get a 30-minute lunch, so they will often email their orders and I have a student that sits in front of a laptop and just writes down orders and runs them.
Where can we find a menu? On Facebook at Skyline Raider Café.
Are you able to use any vegetables you harvest in the school garden? Yes, and it actually helps us a lot with budgeting because we're only open two days a week and so the gardens plots are perfect.
So the kids also learn about gardening? Yes, definitely. I've also been partnering with the school's horticulture program to work on some sustainability projects. This past year we only grew a little bit because it was our first year, but we have another plot this year and so I think it'll really take off.
This summer I spent a week at the World Hunger Relief Farm in Waco to learn some of their farming innovations to bring back up here to campus. We're going to starting doing a worm-composting bin for our waste.
Where do your students go from here? I have kids working at FT-33, Driftwood, Chicken Scratch, Hypnotic Doughnuts and lots of places. They're leaving here with skill-set that allows this to work the line, not just wash dishes. I work them hard, so when they go out there they know what to expect. And sometimes I'll work an extra job just so I can send one of my kids that way, and they know me, so they know the kid will work hard. Plus, I get a feel for different kitchens, so I know how to match the kids with the kitchen personality.
How do you prepare kids for what's expected in restaurants? I never yell directly at a kid or dehumanize anyone, like some chefs do. That's not effective. I have a really loud voice and I just direct things toward the whole class. They might not know exactly whom I'm talking about, but they get it.
So there's no yelling at people in your kitchen? Well, my policy is I yell at the kitchen. And if you're standing in the kitchen and you think it might be directed at you, you might want to pay attention. I'm tough on them and have high expectations. I want them to know what the expectations are. I also really try to move around the kitchen so I can recognize kids that are doing well.
I understand you've been helping out at Fork Fight in the Trinity Groves. Those dinners are like a symphony. The challenge seems not only to serve great food, but serve 300 people at once, while everything is still warm. I love that though. That's why I get called to do these things. I've worked at hotels doing large quantity. I love those big event situations.
How do you organize an event like that? It's 100-percent about the menu. It's about knowing your menu. Your menu can kill you when it comes to volume. It's also about logistics and planning; and advance prepping as far out as you can without compromising the quality of the food.
At Fork Fight, you just lay all the plates out and then every person has a component and they form a sort of assembly line.
What's this about super glue and cuts? Last week a guy in our kitchen [at Trinity Groves] cut his hand really bad, but we still needed him. So we got it to where it wasn't bleeding so profusely and super-glued it and put electrical tape around it.
And it worked? Yes, super glue is basically what hospitals use. I like to use electrical tape too because it's waterproof and when you pull it off, it doesn't pull your hair out of your skin.
How did you figure that out? It happened by accident. One day I cut my finger and didn't have a band-aid, but had to keep working. I had electrical tape and I tried it. Sure enough, it worked. I'm sold now. It's all I use.
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