The San Francisco 17-year-old, in a chef's jacket and metal tongs in hand, eyed the odd-looking green leaves with red stems.
"I've never had chard, but it smells good," he said, still cautious. "But I like my salad cold."
He nonetheless pledged to give the hot leafy greens a try.
Preparing new kinds of food is part of the continuation high school's culinary curriculum, along with kitchen etiquette, knife skills and the art of handling a hot pan. But the program is about much more than cooking.
The 40 or so students enrolled in the classes each quarter must adhere to professional standards that include following rules, teamwork, reliability and pride of work, said their teacher and head chef, Alice Cravens.
Those are skills the teens need outside of a kitchen and school. They are attributes that build confidence as well as content for a resume, the teacher said.
The students at Ida B. Wells struggled in traditional high schools, falling far behind in credits. The school allows students to study at their own pace so they can catch up in academic courses and credits while preparing for a productive future that includes a much-needed high school diploma.
Career potentialThe Heat of the Kitchen culinary arts program is an elective. It helps fulfill students' graduation requirements and offers them insight into a potential career, but it's also a fun reason to come to school, said Jasmine Navas, 16.
"I think it's a good opportunity to have students feel they can accomplish something," she said. "I look forward to coming to this class."
Other high schools in the district have cooking classes, but Ida B. Wells has the only culinary arts program in the district. Students who complete at least 20 hours in the course can sign up for job shadow opportunities at local restaurants.
The internships are a win-win for the teens and the city's food industry, said Daniel Scherotter, chef and owner of Palio D'Asti, which sponsored one of the school's students.