Lucia Boinest - Culinary Arts (NCHS)
CCSD educator follows in father’s footsteps
Lucia Boinest grew up in a household where it was understood that upon high school graduation, you were going to college. It was off to Sewanee – the University of the South where she enrolled as a Third World Studies major with a concentration in Russian so she could go into Foreign Service. Boinest’s next stop was University of South Carolina Law School. But that lasted for just one day.
Boinest, who spent more than 26 years at Garrett High School (and Garrett Academy of Technology) as the Career and Technology Education (CTE) Culinary Arts instructor, decided that taking out an emergency student loan to pay for law school was too big a risk to take on something she wasn’t 100 percent sure of. That decision would lead her to become an educator.
When Boinest was in high school, she worked making candy in downtown Charleston. While in college, she worked at a family-owned restaurant on the weekends.
“It was fun,” said Boinest. “I had a friend at work who wanted to go to culinary school. I had never heard of such a thing and I wanted to explore that because it sounded neat. My tuition loan hadn’t come through and if I took out that emergency loan for law school, I knew I would be obligated to stay in law school. I withdrew and got a job at a restaurant around the corner from my apartment.”
At first her parents were disappointed. But her father, the legendary Norwood Smoak, did not lecture. Perhaps the ever intuitive Smoak, who had a 37-year career as an educator in Charleston County, knew it would all work out the way it was supposed to.
In the meantime, Boinest worked in a well-established restaurant in Columbia before moving back to Charleston. She landed a few odd jobs and eventually met a chef at a Sullivan’s Island restaurant that would become her inspiration.
“He was an American Culinary Federation Apprentice and the stories he shared about his experiences got me excited about cooking as a career,” said Boinest. “I enrolled in the culinary program at Trident Technical College to pursue an Associate’s Degree with a culinary focus. The irony was that I already had a very expensive four-year education under my belt.”
Along the way, Boinest worked in kitchens such as the Rusty Anchor, the Country Club of Charleston, and Village Café.
“I systematically worked at places that would give me a different take on food,” said Boinest. “The Country Club was big and demanding and much different from the smaller restaurants I worked in. The Village Café was phenomenal due to the types of dishes I learned to produce.”
Boinest also worked downtown at hotels, The Mills House, and at The Omni with Chef Lewis Osteen. During that time, she married and was soon expecting her first child.
Boinest took time off and as her maternity leave began to come to an end, she explored the classified ads looking for her next place of employment. That is when she saw an advertisement for a culinary teacher at Garrett Academy of Technology.
“I knew nothing about teaching,” said Boinest. “The closest thing I ever did that resembled teaching was training my coworkers in the kitchens I worked in.”
With encouragement from her father, who retired as a teacher in 1996, she applied for the position and was offered the job.
“I remember asking my dad endless questions about lesson plans and how to actually teach,” said Boinest. “My first lesson plan template was written by my dad and I used it for years. It was super basic, but it was all I needed. It served me well for 26 years at Garrett.”
At Garrett, the students who wanted to take culinary arts were kids who liked to eat and make food. Cooking shows were becoming popular on cable television and students wanted to experience what they were watching.
Boinest’s teaching approach was to teach them what she learned while cooking at all the various restaurants she worked in.
“I was teaching them the standards, but in a real world setting,” said Boinest. “It was not just step by step instruction but more skill development through audience instruction.”
Boinest explained that teachers and staff were invited to make reservations and come eat what the students prepared. They were then asked to weigh in on their experience and their meal.
“It was a way to give them real world experience in the classroom setting,” said Boinest. The class was considered a Professional Culinary Arts class because many of my students already knew how to cook at home. It was fast paced just like on the job because I was trying to emulate or recreate the professional job scene for a cook in Charleston.”
At the start of Boinest’s teaching career in 1994, Culinary Arts was a new curriculum being offered at the high school level. In many ways it was replacing the archaic Home Economics curriculum where minimal cooking was involved.
Culinary Arts is more professionally inspired so that students can learn about food and how to prepare it like one would in a restaurant.
“My students learn all the skills they need to walk out of here and find success cooking in Charleston,” said Boinest. “This training is not just plate composition, though. It covers nutrition and the benefits of healthy living and quality lifestyles.”
One exercise required students to bring in their own ingredients to make their favorite meal to cook in class. Throughout the lesson, the students learned that a variety of vegetables are necessary and that cheese sauce does not have to go on broccoli.
“A lot of the students I taught were economically disadvantaged and ate inexpensive food that was not healthy for them,” said Boinest. “Good food costs money. Part of the curriculum explores the return on the back end. It is frustrating that quality food is so expensive and you don’t see payoff for a while. But as we begin to talk about the negative effects of soda and a candy bar they begin to grasp the importance of preparing healthy meals.”
Many exercises required the students to work actual catering events and sometimes wedding receptions.
“My students have been a real success story,” said Boinest. “It is amazing what they can do.”
Boinest explained growing up she was always in the kitchen helping her dad who she describes as an amazing cook.
“I remember being that age and reading recipes, mom’s old cookbooks, and Charleston Receipts,” said Boinest. I realized then that if I could do it then these kids could learn this.”
Saying goodbye to Garrett
Boinest transitioned to North Charleston High School this year to join their Culinary Arts program. While she’s going to miss Garrett, she said she is looking forward to a new challenge.
“Mrs. Boinest has come to NCHS with an expertise in helping students at NCHS,” said Principal Henry Darby. “I am happy and elated she is here as she has a great added-value to all on-site and community stakeholders.”
“Garrett was unique from the beginning,” said Boinest. “We had a visionary principal who brought us together in the summer for seven days before school opened to get to know one another and talk about integrating the technologies into the curriculum.”
The idea, Boinest explained was for students to take a recipe and work on conversions in their math class. She said that approach gave relevance to academic classes through the technology classes.
“The concept was unique and a great one,” said Boinest. “As a tech teacher, I always felt supported at Garrett. Culinary Arts was not the red headed step child of the school. We were one of the stars. We were giving these kids job skills.”
Many of Boinest’s Garrett Culinary Arts students have gone on to do great things in the industry. Like her father, she runs into former students often and mostly remembers them by name. There are a handful Boinest actually stay in constant contact with. At the end of each year, she tells her graduating seniors to keep her posted.
One student is a chef at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. Another student works for a cruise line where he was the youngest African-American executive chef if the fleet. Another who has had some great jobs, most recently in Charleston as one of the chefs at The Gaillard, has been promoted to a position in Ohio where he has his own cadre of sous chefs. One former student owns a Bed and Breakfast in the neck area of Charleston and he is the head chef there. Many students took their learning a step further and enrolled at Johnson and Wales and other culinary institutes.
“A culinary career is not for everyone,” said Boinest. “It is tough and is labor-intensive. It certainly takes passion.”
The next chapter
Boinest will be the culinary instructor at North Charleston High School (NCHS) under the guidance of Department Chair, Ladora Waters. In addition, she is replacing a colleague who is staying at the school but transitioning to hospitality. Ladora is super professional and someone who is willing to help and problem-solve,” said Boinest. “She will be a valuable resource to me because she is kind and knowledgeable. She knows the drill and has been there long enough to know what will work and what won’t work.”
Boinest explained that the student population at NCHS is similar to that of Garrett.
“Often the students don’t hold back and they tell you what they think,” said Boinest. “Getting them to tell you in a way that’s appropriate is the trick. Knowing this going in will help me to better connect with the students.”
What Boinest is also looking forward to is seeing some of her former Garrett students at NCHS. Many of them are zoned for the school.
“At 57 years old, it is weird to have first-day jitters,” said Boinest. “But it is good because I never think I have it all figured out. I always want to do it better. I’m looking forward to going over there. It is a historic school within the district. I’m also looking forward to being in an area where there are several restaurants within walking distance. The opportunity to work with the chefs at those restaurants will be amazing. It will allow for opportunities to bring them in to conduct demonstrations and maybe even open doors to employment for my students.”