“Ever since I was little I had a passion for cooking. My grandma and I would always cook together. I have a deep joy for making people happy through food,” explained Kortinie Rollins, a 12th-grader and Culinary Arts student at Oakland Schools Technical Campus-Southeast in Royal Oak.
Rollins plans to go to Schoolcraft to get her associate degree in Culinary Arts, eventually finishing with a master’s degree and then opening her own restaurant, specializing in burgers.
These are pretty big plans for a high schooler, but luckily, she is working with just the right person to help her fulfill those dreams.
In enters Rollins’ Culinary Arts Instructor Frank Costanzo, himself a former restaurant owner whose passion is helping kids exactly like Rollins accomplish her goals.
“It’s a great privilege and experience to have him as my teacher,” said Rollins. “His energy and passion is great. There’s never a day that he’s not helpful.”
Growing up in an Italian family, cooking was part of Costanzo’s life early on.
“I was cooking when I was 5 years old,” he said. “Christmas Eve would have been 65 people coming over to my parents’ basement.”
Soon, he was helping his father run a family restaurant – known as Costanzo’s Italian Restaurant, a fine dining facility in the heart of Warren near the Tech Center – for 24 years. But, then the atmosphere of the area changed, said Costanzo, and locals were starting to favor more laid back dining options. His father did not want to do casual dining, so the family decided to sell the restaurant.
“It was time,” said Costanzo.
Luckily for Costanzo, he had an idea of what he wanted to do. A local school superintendent used to always come into the family restaurant and Costanzo would complain to him every fall that he would lose many good staff members who were students he had hired in the summer.
“I was always disappointed because I always had these great kids leaving,” said Costanzo, who also used to coach soccer and basketball in the community.
The superintendent suggested Costanzo look into teaching. So he did. He went back to Wayne State University and got his teaching degree. He also later finished a master’s in educational leadership at Oakland University.
In 2008, Costanzo got a job teaching Culinary Arts at Oakland Schools Technical Campus-Northeast. He has now been at the Southeast campus for three years.
Day after day, Costanzo teaches the students about culinary arts while wrapping the lessons in real-world experience. Yes, they learn how to cook, but they also engage with the public.
This year, the students attended the annual Michigan Restaurant Association’s Michigan Restaurant Show where they were able to feature some of the food they prepared, as well as volunteer with other vendors at the event. They recently participated in the Multicultural Media Luncheon, which is part of the North American International Auto Show. Last month, the Detroit Zoo hired some students from his program.
“We are always doing different things. We just keep the kids engaged and excited,” said Costanzo. “It’s not always just about culinary, it’s making that well-rounded student.”
Sarah Davis is a communications specialist with Oakland Schools. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.