Culinary art with classical appeal

Jack O'Malley
Director of the culinary arts program Jack O'Malley sees that things are running smoothly. Photo by CK Wolfson

By CK Wolfson - April 12, 2007

Tables formally set, servers in crisp white jackets with spit-and-polish manners and rehearsed efficiency, a sense of occasion; lunch is served.

It is easy to forget that you are at the regional high school as Leslie Clapp, director of Island Council on Aging, greets the patrons at the door and welcomes them into the Culinary Arts dining room which is filled with sunshine and student art. As the room fills, people begin circling the tables to exchange hugs and catch up on bits of news before choosing their seats. It is a lovely setting for a lunch prepared and served by the Culinary Arts Department of the regional high school, and a performance of classical music by the high school string ensemble.

Today's offering is a garden salad, shrimp primavera over penne pasta, served with a generous portion of Handel, a selection from Rossini's Barber of Seville, and finished with Telemann and a strawberry-topped creampuff swan.

Stephen Perry
Service with a smile from Stephen Perry. Photo by Anna Marie D'Addarie

Cynthia Shilling, at a table with her grandson Tad Gold and John Jeffers, has attended the once-a-month lunch before, and comments on the reliable excellence of the food. Armen Hanjian, also a repeat customer, says "The music makes this different," and mentions all the people he recognizes as he looks about the room. Elain Christensen says she loves the music and the atmosphere as well as the food; and Lorraine Hoffman, whose grandson Kyle Mercaldo is in the culinary arts program, admits she can't wait to get the 55 Plus Times to see what the menu will be, quickly adding, "but whatever is served, we would come anyway."

Understandable. This is a high-ticket treat for only $10 a person, and both the diners and the staff seem pleased to be in attendance. It's observable in the accommodating way servers Ella Barnett and Ryan Brennan move about the room, and the way Curtis Maciel and Saymiton Alves smile as they carry plates of salads to the tables and respond to questions. It's a refreshing reminder of the bright potential of Island teens.

Jeff Rothwell, the career and technical education director at the high school, comes in to observe, and notes, "This is a good way to bring the community into the school to see what we do. In all of our programs (horticulture, early childhood training, auto shop, carpentry) we try to teach skills for future employment, personal and safety management. We try to stress where this can lead." He looks around. "For a school our size, we probably do more than most."

Sayminton Alves
Sayminton Alves serves the salads to appreciative diners. Photo by CK Wolfson

The Culinary Arts program is under the leadership of teacher, Chef Jack O'Malley, an imposing figure in his white chef's hat. He walks through the room, stopping at different tables to say hello, and checking if everything is satisfactory. Smiles all around. He is assisted by Chef Antonio Saccoccia, owner of The Grill on Main in Edgartown, who comes in several times a week to share his expertise.

Music teacher Michael Tinus, one of the Island's busiest musicians, is responsible for the high school string ensemble. He quietly stands to the side, listening as they play, and boasts that the students are self-directed. Violinists Willoughby Smith, Lydia Fischer, violists Emily Carter, Bethany Pennington, Tessa Wall, and cellist Thomas Phillips have all distinguished themselves as musicians. And the musicians are rewarded after their selections with vigorous applause.

Conversation remains lively among the almost 30 diners, as luncheon plates are emptied and quickly cleared. The dessert, a swan-shaped creampuff elicits an appreciative response. More water? More coffee? And the mood remains festive.

As the tables are being cleared, Eileen and Rupert Robinson seated with friends Julie and Otis Tholander, say they've been coming to the luncheons for years, and declare it "wonderful." And it is unanimous.

To reserve a place at the culinary arts lunch, first Thursday of the month, contact Leslie Clapp: 508-939-9440. Both the string ensemble and the culinary arts catering team are available for hire for private parties and events. Contact the regional high school: 508-693-1033, ext. 135.