Sweet success

Culinary teacher Matthew Thompson wins rookie teacher award for Seminole County

On the last Monday of the school year, those in downstairs building 6 could smell a sweet aroma through the halls in the afternoon.  The last batch of brownies baked in fourth period marked the end to a successful year for culinary teacher Matthew Thompson that began with a change in classroom procedure and ended with county recognition.

Thompson was notified that he had received a teaching position in the summer of 2015, but his work at Hagerty began last school year as a substitute teacher after working in the business world.

“I figured I’d teach sometime, but next thing you know, 15 years goes by,” Thompson said.  “I finally told my wife I was going to start substitute teaching just to get my foot in the door.”

Thompson applied for two long-term positions — one for culinary and one for English — for the last nine weeks of last school year, and got the position as the long-term sub for culinary.  Over the summer, he was offered the position as a teacher for the next year and began work on getting his alternative teaching certification.

Once he began his new position, Thompson looked back on what had and had not worked in the class the year before and set about making changes.  He used his experience working in the restaurant industry to increase the hospitality aspect of the course and added accents to the room to liven up the atmosphere.

“The main problem students had was that they never got to cook.  That’s not why you take the class,” Thompson said.

The first week of school, Thompson made his students a promise: they would cook every week. And they did. A typical week schedule for culinary students this year consisted of bookwork Monday through Wednesday and cooking labs Thursday and Friday. The labs ranged from making pancakes to learning basic skills to creating over 15 stockpots of soup when students were learning knife skills.

“Getting to cook more is a good thing because if you cook more, you get to eat more,” junior Lauren Leverett said.

Word of Thompson’s popular changes to the course spread.  In October, he was surprised to win the Teacher of the Month award after just two months of teaching.

“He was a home-run hire,” assistant principal Brian Blasewitz said. “Everything he said he wanted to implement, he has done, and that’s what makes him a great teacher.”

Thompson continued cooking every week with his students and teaching them about working in a restaurant for the rest of the year.  In May, he was awarded the school’s Rookie Teacher of the Year Award, an award designated for first-year teachers who have done an exceptional job in their positions.

Hours before he was told he had won the award, a new culinary teacher position had been posted on the school’s position hotline.  When Thompson was called to speak with Principal Mary Williams and Blasewitz, he was worried he would be receiving bad news, but he learned not only he had won the award, but that his popularity had caused enrollment in the program to double, so administration had to hire a second teacher.

After receiving the award, Thompson set to work on completing the application packet for the Rookie Teacher of the Year award for Seminole County.  He had to write about his teaching philosophy, teaching practices and volunteer work for the application, then sent it off to the county.

Two weeks later, he was called into Williams’s office again where all administrators and clerical staff were there to congratulate him on winning Rookie Teacher of the Year for Seminole County. On Tuesday, May 17, Thompson was presented at the award at the school board meeting.

“To win for the school was cool, but to win for the county was great,” Thompson said. “I usually don’t get nervous in front of people, ever, but [going up to accept the award] was kind of nerve-wracking.”

As the year winds down for Thompson, he has three awards under his belt and plans for next year. He will teach six periods of culinary, as will the new culinary teacher hired due to demand for the program.  He hopes to continue to cook frequently in his classes and add more competitions into the curriculum. All that aside, he is pleased to be continuing the career he always wanted.

“You can teach anything, but you just have to love to teach. That’s what I have found,” Thompson said.


Simple Summer Recipes from Culinary Teacher Matthew Thompson

Culinary teacher Matthew Thompson shares some recipes he thinks students will find helpful.


Sugar Cookies from Scratch: “I pulled this one because everybody loves a good sugar cookie recipe.”


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and mix until well-combined.
  3. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla.
  4. Add sugar to a large bowl for rolling cookie dough in before baking. Place each ball of cookie dough into the bowl of sugar and roll to coat well.  Place cookie dough onto baking sheet, spacing about 1 ½  to 2 inches apart.  Lightly press each cookie down.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Homemade Pasta Sauce: “This is an essential recipe and it can be made using a lot of items you probably already have in your pantry.”


  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 1 (24 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil


  1. On a cutting board, chop and smash the garlic into a paste with the salt.
  2. Heat a large saucepan with the oil in it over medium high heat.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook for about 8 minutes or until the onions are brown.
  4. Add the chicken broth to the pan and scrape the bottom to get all of the “flavor” bits off.
  5. Add the tomatoes into the pan.
  6. Add the tomato paste and all of the seasonings except the parsley and basil.
  7. Stir to combine.
  8. Bring to a soft boil, turn the heat to low, reduce and simmer. Let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add the parsley and basil.
  10. While simmering, bring a separate pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Cook 10-12 minutes or until desired tenderness.

Biscuit Pizzas: “Everyone’s had biscuits before, but this is a unique way to do something else with them.”


  • 1 tube refrigerated biscuit dough (usually in roll of 10)
  • ½ cup pizza sauce
  • ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • Pepperoni, mushrooms or other toppings as desired.


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Open can of biscuits and separate. You can also separate individual biscuits in half for two smaller pizza biscuits.
  3. On a very lightly floured surface, roll biscuits out to 3-inch circles or more depending on desired thinness. Create a ridge around the edges.
  4. Place dough on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake 6 minutes, until dough is set but not browned.
  6. Remove biscuits from oven. Top with pizza sauce, cheese and toppings.
  7. Return to oven and bake an additional 6-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown.
  8. Allow pizzas to set for 2-3 minutes before serving.