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Fresh Meat

dining ameliaOne of four Cabrillo College students featured in new Cooking Channel series spills the beans about ‘The Freshman Class: Santa Cruz’

What do you want to be when you grow up? Chances are, you were asked that question at least once as a child. For Amalia Laugesen, the answer was always “teacher.” But life had other plans for her.

At 21, Laugesen had her first of four children. And this past summer—14 years after her oldest was born—the San Jose resident found herself once again faced with that question.

“I’ve always kind of known that when my kids got older, I could finally figure out what it is that I want to do when I grow up,” she says with a laugh. “I could have gone back to [teaching], but instead, I realized that this is a time for me to do what I really want. I should explore what I’m passionate about.”

She found that passion rather accidentally, while taking a cooking class at Sur La Table. The instructor informed the students that she had graduated from the prestigious Cabrillo College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Program, and Laugesen began to wonder if she also had what it takes.

“I’ve always loved cooking and baking,” she says. “And my mom’s always said I should go to culinary school, but I always laughed at the thought.”

Despite her apprehension, she mustered up the courage to enroll in the program at Cabrillo for the fall of 2013.

It wasn’t until she arrived that she found out that The Freshman Class, a documentary television series on Cooking Channel, which follows four aspiring chefs in their first semester of culinary school, was heading to Santa Cruz to film its second season.

When the film crew reached out to the students in Cabrillo’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Program in the hopes of finding four to feature, Laugesen’s gut reaction was, “What would they care about a 35-year-old mom?” But, after mulling it over some more, she decided to give it a shot.

Laugesen, along with three classmates—an injured navy veteran named Jim, a former gang member named Gabriel, and a culinary school dropout named Kim—were all selected to be on the show. The first of eight episodes of The Freshman Class: Santa Cruz will air on Cooking Channel at 8 p.m. on March 11.

The film crew documented the four students at school, and occasionally at their homes and workplaces. For Laugesen, the experience of being on camera was challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

dining amelia2San Jose resident Amalia Laugesen practices the art of precision during a course at the Cabrillo College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program. “It’s tricky making sure that everybody feels comfortable,” Laugesen says of inviting the camera crew into her home. “But the crew was really amazing. For me, they felt like an extension of my family.

“In my experience, you kind of forget about the cameras,” she goes on. “I got really comfortable, to the point where it wasn’t weird to be like, ‘OK, I’m going to the bathroom now, I’m going to turn my microphone off.’”

But with the show’s premiere right around the corner, Laugesen admits to having some anxiety. “I’m a little apprehensive about watching it,” she says.

Without giving too much away, Laugesen divulges that both her experience in the culinary program so far and on The Freshman Class have changed her.

“I started out very uncertain and unsure of myself,” she explains. “I’m [at Cabrillo] with talented people that are, for the most part, 19 or 20, and have already found their passion at such a young age. And here I am, this older person, who just figured out what she wants to do. It’s intimidating.”

Those fears were put to the test on multiple occasions during her first semester in the culinary program, particularly when she had to work at Cabrillo College’s highly regarded, student-run Pino Alto Restaurant and cater actual events around town.

“When you’re thrown into a situation like that, you’re going to learn a ton and it will be hard,” she says. “This is real life. You’re serving paying customers at the restaurant, and, in some cases, you’re serving food at a wedding—the most important day of someone’s life.”

It’s only been a few months since she entered the program, but Laugesen says she’s feeling confident and aspires to own her own bakery one day.

“Most of us only get one shot to do something in life,” she says. “And, for me, everything just kind of fell into place.” 


‘The Freshman Class: Santa Cruz’ premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 11 on Cooking Channel. For more information, visit cookingchanneltv.com. Photos: Cooking Channel

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