PVHS re-launches culinary program: Q&A with teacher Jon Holquin

Jon Holquin, Palo Verde High School's (PVHS) new culinary arts teacher. (Loaned photo by Cathyleen Rice/Palo Verde Unified School District)

It's been five years since decadent smells wafted across the courtyard at Palo Verde High School, but today the culinary arts kitchen is finally back.

As a revived Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, the culinary arts class has expanded its boundaries this year to better prepare students for local job vacancies, particularly in the food industry.

Given the opportunity to share what he’s learned from his 10-plus years' experience, Jon Holquin – PVHS’ new CTE instructor – said overseeing the program “isn’t just about cooking, but more about preparing students for the real world.”

According to the Blythe native, Holquin's new job entails, “not only helping students learn how to land their first job, but also, showing them how to exemplify great customer service skills, handle food properly and making them increasingly skilled for the workforce, whether it’s during or after high school.”

Recommended by his former 7th grade science teacher to apply for the position, the 2006 PVHS alumnus said he accepted the challenge to apply for the job with the support his of wife, Maria.

In sharing his profound love for all things culinary with freshmen and sophomores, Holquin's participating students will slice, measure and cook under his direct supervision.

Q: What’s your background/experience in the culinary field?

Holquin: Well, I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 17. My first job was at Wendy’s, when I was a senior in high school. I became the closing manager at Wendy’s, and ever since then, I’ve been here and there. So I started off at Wendy’s, then got started at the Dairy Queens/Shell that’s not here anymore. From there, I worked at KFC, right before it was bought by the franchise. (However), I got my big break in 2010/11 when I joined the JDADA Group. I worked in both of their hotels, then I started working at Subway. (Nonetheless), it wasn’t until they opened up the Red Cactus that I found where I wanted to be. Before working at Red Cactus, I had never worked in a full-service restaurant. I had always worked behind the counter or at the drive-thru. I had worked at Jack in the Box for two years, on and off, and then I got recruited by Starbucks. Now working at Starbucks is the pinnacle of customer service, so if anybody works there, they’re good at what they do…After spending some time at Red Cactus, I then became the general manager of Pizza Studio. I had always wanted to be the boss, so my dream came true in that aspect. And as a GM (General Manager) at Pizza Studio, we were able to do a lot of good for the community.

Q: Who taught you your cooking techniques, and what is your favorite meal to cook?

Holquin: My dad knows how to cook and used to cook at the prison, but I watched my mom cook all the time, and I learned recipes from her and my nonnie. I still call my nonnie till this day, to make sure I’m following her recipes correctly. I still cook things the way I learned from them…My favorite dish to make is green chile chicken enchiladas. I make mine in a casserole style. Instead of rolling them into little burritos, you put a layer of tortillas, then chicken, sauce and cheese – repeat. Of course, you have to pair it with rice and beans.

Q: In what ways do you hope to contribute to the success of your students or impact their lives?

Holquin: I’ve had really great general managers who made a huge impact in my life, and I’m not sure if they knew it or not, but I want to implement the same confidence and positive energy to my students. This is a culinary arts class, but the other half will be for the career technical education and that’s to prepare these kids for life after high school. It’s come to my understanding that kids nowadays cannot survive while away at college. A lot of these kids come from really blessed homes where their guardians give them everything, so they never have to work a day in their lives. Some of these kids are smart and they get full scholarships and grants so they don’t even have to pay for school. But you still have to know how to survive – mentally and physically when you leave home. And I feel it’s something I’ve mastered, so I definitely would like to impart those skills. An ideal I’d like to instill in my students is the same thing I live by every day: “When am I never not trying?” If I don’t know the answer, I find someone who does or I keep looking until I find the answer. If I can’t do something, I’m going to keep practicing until I can, and that’s how each student can evolve.

Q: Where do you see the program, a year from now?

Holquin: Hopefully, by the end of this year, I would like to start a culinary arts club. I would have to have kids who have already taken the class, and my goal is to take on any fundraisers and catering the school might have. The club and I will cook and prepare everything, so instead of ordering pizza for organizations like JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps), the school can just buy the club the ingredients. Also, the community and staff here can count on receiving our full support. Also, in a few years, I’d like to offer advanced classes. Right now, I have freshman and sophomore students and five seniors, but if the freshmen who are taking the class now would like to come back their senior year, there should be an advance class for them, since they would’ve already learned the entry-level stuff and probably have their food handler card or even jobs. Some people want to go into the food industry, you know?

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