At Coral Shores, students in the culinary classroom are hard at work learning the skills and techniques of food preparation and cooking. Under the direction of culinary teacher Corie McGraw-Abel, the program is climbing to new heights as the interest level grows.

Add to that a $50,000 grant McGraw-Abel recently secured from the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association for new equipment and a makeover, and the culinary program at Coral Shores is about to get even better.

“I was like, ‘oh my gosh. This is crazy,’” McGraw-Abel told the Weekly in a recent interview.

The FRLA is in its second year providing funds for a kitchen remodel to a Florida ProStart high school. From culinary techniques to management skills, ProStart curriculum provides real-life experience opportunities and helps students build practical skills and a foundation that lasts a lifetime.

Because Coral Shores is a ProStar-designated school, McGraw-Abel applied for the grant by sending in pictures of the kitchen and explaining in an essay why the program needed the funds. The culinary classroom is pretty large — one that would make any executive chef jealous — to give culinary students the space they need to work.

Old and outdated equipment will be replaced with updated appliances.

“It’s going to provide more opportunity and more ability to do things to cater to the students and their learning experience,” McGraw-Abel said. “Lynne Hernandez, regional director of FRLA, and Laura Ciampa, a local FRLA member, go up to Tallahassee when the FRLA Educational Foundation Board meets so they can fight for our area and the things we need.”

McGraw-Abel is in her fourth year as culinary teacher at Coral Shores. In that time, enrollment in the program has doubled. Seniors Susie Gutierrez and Daniel Koerperich both praised it.\

“It’s a great experience and a great atmosphere where we learn to cook,” Gutierrez said. “And we have a great teacher in Ms. McGraw.”

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking, so this is a great program to learn how to prepare and cook food,” Koerperich said.

With 35 ProStart culinary programs in the state, Hernandez said the Coral Shores culinary program qualified between the extreme need following Hurricane Irma and McGraw-Abel’s amazing work in turning the attitudes of kids around and getting them excited to cook.

McGraw-Abel’s work in building the culinary program up is gaining the attention of many. Principal Blake Fry said she’s been a magnet for kids who are taking hold of the certification process and getting hands-on experience. As for the 20-year-old kitchen, Fry said it’s time for a makeover.

“The program’s significantly unique down here,” Fry said. “It’s what we do down here. You go to any restaurant, you see these kids. It’s giving them this opportunity of getting out of the ordinary, traditional lifestyle of the restaurant and pave a pathway for a career in it. This is pretty significant.”

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