Camelot Teacher Profile: Raul Rivera
Excel South culinary arts teacher Raul Rivera grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and received his degree at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute-Le Cordon Bleu Program in Pittsburgh. He has been working in restaurants since he was 16 but in the past couple years has been teaching full time at Camelot’s Excel South.
What do you teach for your culinary classes?
“Culinary 1 is teaching the basics, knife skills, sanitary, sanitize, pretty much we learn about ethnicity, food from different countries, because the skill set is mixed. We have a lot of diversity in the school, so I try to incorporate that together so they can understand each others cultures more. In Culinary 2, I am a little stricter with them, so I critique them more on their skills. They are in charge of doing all the school tours, we cook for the people who tour, stuff like that. I am harder with them, especially when we are serving other people, and they get in touch with how they like to present their platters and make something.”
Was there something that drew you to teaching?
“I like teaching. What intrigues me is when, for instance, we get tours coming in and I ask my students a question and they know what they are talking about. It makes me feel good because I can see they are actually learning something in my class and taking it outside of school and doing it at home. It gives me a good feeling that I am getting something through their heads. It helps some of the students too because some of them are not interested in math, history, and science every single day so when they come to my class it is a reliever for them because they’re cooking and doing hands-on work they love. My attendance rate is actually pretty good; they know they are going to cook the next day so they actually come to school.”
What do you think of the Camelot model in particular?
“I love it, I know if I was in school, back then I would have signed up for Camelot myself. I was one of those kids; I was a troubled kid; I was getting suspended all the time for fights, so I understand some of these kids, where they come from and why they are in this position. So I think it is a great program, an awesome program, especially for kids who want it. They can achieve a lot more than actually going to a regular high school.”
What role does healthy eating have in your class and what you are teaching?
“A big role, we actually go into how to read labels, how much fat is in it, how many calories does it have? For instance you eat a cheeseburger at McDonald’s and you eat a cheeseburger from here, make it yourself. What’s the difference? I make them look up how much fat does this one have, how much does this one have, etcetera.”
What role would you say peers teaching peers has in your classroom?
“A very good role actually. I have four sous chef jackets, I pick out the strongest students by grades or just knowing how to read the recipe, and I make them the leader of the group. There are usually four groups in my classroom so they are in charge of making sure everyone else is measuring dishes correctly and it works great. This is because I know they know what they are doing and I only have one student coming up and asking me questions instead of everyone at once. It makes it easier for them, and makes it easier for me at the same time. It helps them to hear stuff from someone who is their age.”
What do you hope your students will take away from your class in 20 years?
Hopefully they learn how to do everything and that they teach their children later on in life too. This is how my teacher taught me: you cut like this, measure like that, make sure you use the right utensils. I repeat certain things I want them to know, for example liquid or dry measuring cups. That is something I go through every single day with them. I know sometimes I sound like a broken record to them, but I want to make sure they take that with them.”