When Chef Michael Gass enters his culinary classroom at Fernandina Beach High School every day, he is living out a calling. Coming from a family of community-minded individuals, Gass feels that teaching culinary arts is his way of giving back to his community. “Being around the kids, teaching them skills that will benefit them in their adult life, it’s what I was meant to do,” says Gass. “And I think my students feel that, too.”
Chef Gass began his journey working at FBHS in 2012 while still operating Kelley’s Courtyard Café in downtown Fernandina Beach. After selling the business a few years later, he focused solely on his new profession as an educator. Today, in addition to his duties at FBHS, Gass is a part-owner at Black Cat Pizzeria in Yulee.
“Several of my former students from different years work at Black Cat,” says Gass. “My culinary program comes full-circle when I realize I taught them the skills they would need to work in their chosen profession.” A number of his students have gone on to graduate from premier culinary schools such as Johnson and Wales and the Culinary Institute of America and to find employment in Michelin-rated restaurants.
Lots of great professional opportunities are available in the culinary arts, including chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, servers, and more. Chefs are in demand around the world, which means they have the opportunity to travel if they so desire. Chefs and restaurant workers can also work in luxury resorts, on cruise ships, or at spas. The culinary arts are truly an art form, and the ability to be creative and to try new things is a big reason many culinary students are drawn to the field.
In addition to teaching his students how to prep and cook food, Chef Gass also teaches them about nutrition by helping students grow their own vegetables and herbs in their classroom garden, as well as how to provide food service in their courtyard café, located on the campus at FBHS. He and his students have also raised thousands of dollars for local charities, including the Fernandina Beach High School Foundation.
Gass was voted Teacher of the Year in 2021, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was wreaking havoc on communities all over the world. Students found solace in cooking for one another, and families gathered around dinner tables together at their homes.
At present, Gass teaches 152 students from ages 14 to 19 who are interested in working in the world of culinary arts.
The following are shrimp recipes especially prepared by Gass’s students in celebration of the Isles of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. Enjoy!