Leon Fisher did what most Oakland Schools Technical Campus (OSTC) seniors do when they graduate: he got a job in the industry he studied as a student.
For Fisher, a graduate of OSTC-Northwest’s (NW) Culinary program, this meant becoming a line cook at Clarkston Union, one of downtown Clarkston’s most bustling, popular restaurants, which has been promoted by the likes of Food Network’s Guy Fieri and Detroit native musician Kid Rock.
Fisher is living a successful life: doing what he loves with the knowledge that the education he received from OSTC-NW helped propel him to this opportunity.
“I got a huge head start,” Fisher explained.
But here is where Fisher is different. Instead of merely touting the OSTC campuses, he has decided to return back to mentor current students in the Culinary program.
“I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to go to an Oakland Schools’ facility,” he said. “So, to go back and work with the students, I absolutely adore it.”
Fisher was recently recognized at the Michigan ProStart Competition with the Mentor of the Year Award for his work in fostering the culinary students at Northwest, a team which recently won first place at the same event Fisher was honored. ProStart is a nationwide, two-year high school program offered as part of all OSTCs’ Culinary programs. The goal of ProStart is to help students learn vital kitchen skills including food safety and knife cuts, and important management lessons such as menu development and marketing. The state competition provides a hands-on opportunity for students to demonstrate the skills learned throughout the year while being judged by top industry professionals.
Kyra Burkeen, an instructional technician at Northwest, said ProStart contacted her wanting to recognize Fisher after they observed his dedication to the field. They asked her to nominate him and she agreed without hesitation.
“He’s so devoted to the program. I’ve never met someone who is so passionate about culinary,” she explained, adding he carries a notebook around with him, taking notes of different culinary tips and tricks to share with the students. “He spends all of his time perfecting his craft.”
The award was supposed to be a surprise for Fisher, but the team decided they couldn’t keep it a secret because they wanted to be the ones to tell him the good news.
“When he found out, we were all crying and giving him hugs. He was just overwhelmed with gratitude,” said Juliana Stuertz, a senior in the Culinary program at Northwest.
Fisher said he loves mentoring students.
“I have a really good relationship with the instructors over there. I definitely consider that whole cluster my family away from home,” he said.
In addition to coaching the students as they prepare for the ProStart competition, Fisher serves on a culinary advisory board where instructors from all four OSTC campuses meet to discuss closing the gap between schooling and industry.
“We decide how we can really help them prepare for leaving school,” explained Fisher.
Fisher prepares the students for competition by quizzing them on test questions, drawing up plates to create, sending helpful culinary photos and taking notes on the techniques and skills used by others who have found success in the industry.
For his efforts, Fisher earned an engraved cutting board.
“This is something I never would have expected. I wasn’t doing it for an award or pat on my back. I’m doing it because I’m passionate about it and I want to do it. But it’s nice it doesn’t go unseen,” he said, adding the key to his success in the industry has been: “Do what makes you happy regardless of what anyone tells you.”