St. Helena High School culinary arts instructor Sarah Goff said she was destined to work with food. Being a fourth-generation Napan, she has been raised alongside her family-farmed acreage that has produced pears, prunes and apples and finally, wine grapes, in Carneros.
“I knew I really liked to cook, and I liked entertaining people,” she said. “Food is so centric, since everyone has to eat. It is a common goal to nourish our bodies and have a good time doing it.”
A graduate of Napa High School’s class of 2000, Goff studied culinary arts at the Napa Valley Cooking School in St. Helena. She learned from such luminaries as Eric Lee, the former Simi Winery executive chef, and George Torassa, instructor at the California Culinary Academy.
During the 14-month culinary program at the Upvalley campus of Napa Valley College, Goff spent her final six months in an externship, cooking at Bella Luna in Sonoma.
She later worked at The American Market Café at Copia, in Julia’s Kitchen in the pantry station, as an assistant pastry chef at Fume Bistro, as a caterer with Bob Hurley at Napa Valley Grille and as events coordinator at Del Dotto Winery.
“I’m one of those freaks who loves catering,” she said.
Goff worked for three years as the assistant to Mike Cromwell, who teaches the CTE Culinary program at Vintage High School in Napa. Mike encouraged her to apply for the position at St. Helena High. Both culinary programs are managed by the Napa County Office of Education. “It seemed like a natural progression up the career ladder and an amazing opportunity,” she said.
Today, in addition to her job introducing St. Helena students to culinary arts and hospitality, she serves as assistant banquet manager for La Toque Napa Valley.
In her first year with St. Helena Unified, she is using the ProStart curriculum, which she said is not easy for students who are new to culinary arts.
Every Thursday, the students are given 90 minutes in which to cook.
“Everyone’s really excited to see the culinary building in use, but I’m still trying to get the kids oriented, as they are learning an entirely new vocabulary and important food safety procedures,” Goff said. The students began the year learning about the most important aspect of food production — safety and sanitation. The students’ final exam on that unit was the California Food Handler’s certificate.
Students have since gone on to study Michael Pollan’s take on healthy eating, eating locally and sustainable practices.
“The kids up here are really interested in their grades and want to do well, but a lot of kids say this is their hardest class because this is a Career Technical Education class,” said Goff. “They have to use their combined knowledge of the past 14 to 16 years from English and math as well as their own life experiences, to be able to work alongside someone they don’t know or might not even like. They have to learn how to work within a group and pull information from others who have different experiences.”
Goff lives in Napa with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Bailey, 9, who attends Napa Valley Language Academy.
(This article was provided by the St. Helena Unified School District.)