Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) – Santa Ana

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  • Cooking School - Home Cooks

The award-winning Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) provides a creative, challenging, and nurturing environment that offers bright and talented students unparalleled preparation for higher education and a profession in the arts.

Founded in 1987 by visionary educator Dr. Ralph Opacic, OCSA has grown from a small after-school arts program into one of the premier arts schools in the nation. This innovative public charter school embraces and encourages artistic creativity and academic excellence, and produces lifelong learners who matriculate to top-tier colleges, universities, and conservatory programs.

Orange County School of the Arts serves a diverse student body and is accessible to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic standing. The school is tuition-free and donation dependent, and no student is admitted or denied based on financial capacity. OCSA is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).


Overview of the program(s):

The award-winning Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) provides a creative, challenging and nurturing environment that offers bright and talented students unparalleled preparation for higher education and a profession in the arts. The Mekjian Family Culinary Arts & Hospitality Conservatory (CA&H) at OCSA is designed to embrace, nurture and expand a student’s passion for food, creativity and excellence.

How is the professional program (PP) unique?

Through a challenging, hands-on curriculum, based on leading industry standards and collegiate culinary programs, students are introduced to basic kitchen skills, which they maintain and expand upon throughout their tenure in the program. Students are also exposed to the importance of sanitation standards, world cuisines, baking, pastry, garde manger, food science, as well as high volume food production and internship opportunities in myriad positions throughout the hospitality industry. Graduating students have a solid foundation in the culinary arts as well as a practical understanding of dining room operations and applied business practices.


What types of skills are learned and how do these skills prepare students for the working environment?

Students who attend OCSA’s CA&H Conservatory receive innovative dual art and academic education within a dynamic school environment that focuses on individual growth, opportunity and diversity. Students develop as well-rounded people, possessing self-confidence, time-management and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. OCSA provides a unique schedule, where students attend academic classes from 8:05 - 2:05 p.m. and are able to focus solely on their arts conservatory classes from 2:15 - 4:45 p.m. four days per week. CA&H offers comprehensive instruction of cooking fundamentals as well as practical business applications.

How long is the PP?

Serving more than 100 students in grades 9-12, our four-year curriculum is in alignment with some of the world’s most respected post-secondary culinary and hospitality programs.

What does the average student spend on their culinary or hospitality education?

OCSA is a tuition-free public charter school that is dependent on donors and industry partners to help support the arts portion of the students’ schedule. OCSA reaches out to families to also contribute to their student’s education, asking an average of $4,000 per school year to help fund conservatory expenses. No student is admitted or denied based on financial capacity.

Who is your prime candidate for the PP enrollment?

Our prime candidate is a student with a big heart who has an idea of what they might want to do with their future. The student needs to be passionate about why they want to be part of our program. Do they have a passion for Culinary Arts, Baking & Pastry, Hospitality or Management? Having an open mind and not being afraid to try new things, foods, concepts is important. Students need to have a certain level of maturity for their age, as we do work with fire and knives.

How do you enroll and when?

  • Applications for the 2019-2020 school year will open in the Fall of 2018 and are due in mid-January 2019. Prospective students and parents are encouraged to learn more about OCSA by attending one of our Preview Days, which are typically scheduled on a Saturday in October, November and January.
  • To apply for the CA&H Conservatory, prospective students must submit an application, YouTube video and portfolio containing an essay, your favorite recipe as described below and two (2) letters of reference.
    • Portfolio will include:
      • Essay: Please write an essay of 500 words or less, addressing any of the questions below and include this essay at the beginning of your portfolio:
        • What is your motivation for entering the conservatory/industry?
        • What are your personal/professional goals?
        • What is your understanding of the industry?
        • Who is your mentor and why? (Chef, teacher, family, etc.)
        • Tell us about YOU, your heart and your mind.
      • Your Favorite Recipe
        • 1 recipe written in standard form
        • Photo of the finished product
        • Letters of Reference
          • 2 reference letters from student’s current teachers.  
          • Reference letters should address:
            • (1) the students ability to focus and stay on task and
            • (2) level of maturity amongst his/her peers in a classroom/lab setting
      • Video will include:
        • Please create a 3-5 minute YouTube video explaining to the culinary faculty why you would like to be part of the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Conservatory.

How many applicants do you receive for the PP?

On average we receive more than 100 applications each year.

How many spots are available in the PP?

On average 25 positions are available in our program each year.

Generally, do your students enter jobs right out of school or do they continue with more education?

Our program is designed to expose students to a wide variety of career paths available within the hospitality industry. Students are trained in safety sanitation procedures as well as management practices including cost controls and budgeting. When students graduate from our program they are prepared with a myriad of skills including the manager’s level ServSafe certification. Our graduates are ready to enter the workforce with a true understanding of what it takes to work their way up the ladder.  A majority of our students proceed to post-secondary schools majoring in an area of the hospitality industry that they were introduced to at OCSA. Other graduates use the transferable skills they learned within CA&H to support themselves while studying another field.

Who heads the culinary/hospitality department in the school?  

  • Chef Director Daniel Mattos & Chef Director of Culinary Operations Peter Striffolino designed the CA&H kitchens and curriculum when the program opened in 2012.  
  • Chef Daniel Mattos oversees the curriculum, which includes the academic classes, lab classes and high volume production, where students assist the catering team. He also oversees the internship program where our students are working with industry leaders across Orange County and Los Angeles. Mattos also coaches our state champions in the ProStart Management Cup.   
  • Chef Striffolino manages the foodservice program through our cafeteria, feeding 700-900 meals a day, from scratch, to our 2,000 + student body as well as catering services for campus events and others across Southern California.
  • Together Chefs Mattos and Striffolino have created a program that provides students theoretical, practical, hands-on real-world experiences that prepares students for their future.

What lead them to teaching instead of lead chef or hospitality management position?

      • Chef Daniel Mattos started in the industry at 14 years old washing dishes, taking home-economic classes and seeking out post-secondary education programs to further his knowledge of the hospitality industry. He has an understanding of what CA&H students are going through and wanting to achieve. Chef Mattos wants to give back and provide opportunities he did not have in high school.
      • The Chef Director’s position here at OCSA is a lead chef and hospitality management position. Our team consists of 9 professional Chefs and Managers from the industry that have worked across the world. Together we have created an environment that nurtures and encourages students to hone their passions and be successful in the future. Graduates leave our program with over 1,000 lab hours, real-world experience working within our catering services and a solid work ethic.

How can the hospitality industry participate? For example, how can they help the school? (Such as internships or guest chef appearances)

CA&H would love to expand our partnerships with industry leaders. We welcome the industry to join us in training the next generation of chefs and managers. If leaders are able to visit our classrooms and share their experiences with our students through conversation, a demonstration or food tasting that would enhance what we are offering here. During senior year, students can choose to participate in the internship program. We are always looking to increase our pool of internship sites. Students have the ability to choose the direction they want to go with their internship. They can pick a position in the kitchen, on the floor, in agriculture or even food science. The internship needs to be related to what they have been exposed to in the past three years. The perfect internship site provides students with the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the business by rotating within different stations, departments or responsibilities.

  • Partnership Benefits:
    • Opportunities to connect with and recruit qualified students for internship and entry-level positions
    • Recognition as an Industry Partner to the OCSA community
    • Acknowledgement of your expertise as a leader in the culinary arts and hospitality fields


Is there a contact for internships?

Ms. Ann Crane, faculty member and internship coordinator, [email protected]

Are your students encouraged to stage? Why or why not?

Yes our students are encouraged to stage. In fact, during their freshman year, students are only allowed to volunteer to be dishwashers at our catering functions. We feel it’s extremely beneficial that students learn the importance of hard work and what it takes to climb up the ladder.

We feel that an opportunity to stage is important because not only does it allow a potential employer to see what the student has to bring to the table, but it also allows the student to make an educated decision to make sure the establishment is a good fit for their skill level and personality.

If you have a student-run dining location where the public can dine, please describe it including hours and dates of operation?

We have a student-run catering company. Our students are involved with meeting party organizers, helping to design a tailored menu to meet the client’s needs, reviewing rental needs, mis en place, loading of trucks, setting up kitchens, executing front and back of the house, breakdown, clean up and returning everything back out our kitchens at school.

For your next special event, please contact Chef Director of Culinary Operations, Peter Striffolino, CEC at [email protected] or 714-560-0900 ext. 6652. Visit www.ocsarts.net/catering.

All proceeds go back into supporting the CA&H program.

Why should the industry hire your graduates as opposed to no schooling and/or grads from other schools?

Our conservatory provides highly motivated individuals with the tools necessary to succeed in their chosen niche within the hospitality industry. Guided by a staff of highly qualified instructors, students develop competencies in both classic and modern kitchen techniques. Emphasis is placed on professionalism, creativity, integrity and work ethic. Our students are trained to be humble young adults that want to further their knowledge within the industry.

Additional information:

  • Each year our faculty team learns from our students and we continuously look for ways to improve our student’s experience within our program. We started competing in the nationwide ProStart competition 5 years ago.  The CA ProStart Cup is an electrifying event that puts high school culinary and hospitality management students to the ultimate test. Students develop and present a proposal for a new restaurant in the Management Cup. Culinary teams have one hour to prepare a three course meal in the Culinary Cup. What's at stake? More than $2.3 million in available scholarships and the chance to represent California at the National ProStart Invitational.  
  • New this year, a first of its kind of competition, teams of high school students develop and pitch a concept for a robot, product, app or software to improve the restaurant industry. 
  • The CA&H Innovation team took first place and for the past two years, our management team has had the pleasure of representing California at Nationals.

Why do you think it’s important to start teaching culinary skills to high school students rather than waiting until college level?

Students benefit from learning culinary schools at the high school level for two reasons: 1) The program offers students a chance to explore the field without the financial or time commitment of beginning at a post-secondary level, while still learning valuable skills that they will take with them for life.2) If students do decide to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, then they will have a significant head-start and will be able to advance in their career at a faster pace.

What percentage of your students enter the culinary field and/or continue their culinary education?

About 20% of students go into the culinary field and/or continue their culinary education, while the rest take the transferable skills with them to pursue other majors. OCSA has a 99% college acceptance rate.

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