Andrew Borenstein said his education at the culinary-arts academy at Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools helped land him a job right out of high school in 2008, working for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants as a sous chef.

He later attended Hocking College and Ohio State University before serving as executive chef and operating partner for the now-closed Lomonicos Inc.

Borenstein, who became the academy's second culinary-arts instructor in 2015, said part of his job is mirroring a competitive, real-life working environment.

"I'm a chef first, instructor second. Our job is to challenge them inside this industry," he said. "The level of accountability we hold our students to is very high."

The academy was named one of the 50 best programs in the nation and awarded a Career Program of Distinction designation by the National Center for Hospitality Studies, a group of culinary and hospitality programs at career and technical schools. It's the fifth year in a row Eastland has received the award.

Criteria for the award include competitions, enrollment, community influence and examples of student work, as well as student-run businesses and on-site reviews, said David Eichorn, head instructor and chef at the academy for the last 13 years.

The latest award joins a crowded trophy case at the career center, 4465 S. Hamilton Road in Groveport.

The program has garnered 22 gold medals at competitions at the Ohio chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and is one of only six in Ohio certified by the American Culinary Federation, Eichorn said.

The culinary-arts program is part of the Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools, which serves 16 school districts in Franklin, Fairfield and Pickaway counties.

"We have such a diverse group of students that it allows us to reflect the industry," Borenstein said.

There are 71 students -- juniors and seniors -- enrolled in the program this school year, a number that's projected to grow by 12% next year.

The academy's kitchen was expanded and remodeled about five years ago.

"We focus heavily not just on the food aspect but (also) on the entire restaurant and hospitality industry. We operate both a restaurant and catering (services) for the district," Eichorn said. "It's a reaffirmation of yes, we're teaching the right things and it's working."

Courses are divided into four major areas of study: hospitality fundamentals, fundamentals of food production, baking and pastry arts and restaurant management.

Students are encouraged to focus on areas of specialization for competitions -- everything from nutrition and meal preparation to event planning and pastries, Eichorn said.

They also have "shadow days" and are encouraged to work at the Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin on a one-week paid contract.