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Culinary arts students at home on the range
Curtis Maciel mixes the ingredients while Ryan Brennan reads off the recipe. Photos by Ralph Stewart
When culinary arts students from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) come home and ask "What's for dinner?" their parents are likely to answer, "Whatever you're cooking." This semester, whether for fun or a future career, about 70 students will learn how to slice, dice, sauté and purée under the guidance of chef/instructor Jack O'Malley.
Stephen Perry holds a tray of rolls destined for the oven.
There is also the dreaded dish station, where everyone takes a turn at the cleanup and dishwashing detail. Students are graded daily on production, employability skills, uniform and personal hygiene, and observation of safety rules.
At the 12:35 pm Friday class a few weeks ago, the students, all sophomores, first watched a video about cooking techniques before heading to the commercial-sized kitchen. Donning their white coats, they went right to their workstations, plunging into their tasks for the day with enthusiasm.
Fabio Motta (left) and Stephen Perry (right) prepare sauces for the entrees.
At another workstation, Kelly McCarron, Theresa DiMattia, and Cayla Morris mixed up chocolate chip scones. Cayla said her Mom already has been asking her, "What did you learn to cook today? Can you cook dinner for me?" Peter Ferrini, cheerfully handling dish duty, said he has made dinner for his parents, and hopes to work up to making dinner for them once a week instead of once a month.
The main ingredients
Pierce Warren (left) and D.J. Pothier (right) grill shrimp under the watchful eye of
chef/instructor Jack O’Malley.
As sophomores, students can choose any of the programs as a single-period class, a double period, or as a major which is three hours every day. Some students continue to take their core subjects, and choose a vocational shop instead of having study halls and taking other electives.
"The culinary arts program has just been exploding," said vocational education director Jeff Rothwell. "We actually have turned away students who want to get into the program, because there is physically just not enough space."
Grilled shrimp with a jalapeño, honey and basil sauce.
Students who are very interested in making a career in the food industry often work in Vineyard restaurants during the summer and throughout the school year, Mr. O'Malley said. "A lot of culinary colleges will send their students for 'externships' at Island restaurants that these high school kids can work in, which is pretty amazing," he pointed out.
With employment in the food industry readily available, Mr. Rothwell said, "We encourage our students to try to work in the best place that they can to learn the top end of the business. On the Island, there are so many outstanding restaurants that the experience they can get here is a lot better than most rural towns."
In talking to his students about culinary arts careers, Mr. O'Malley said he tells them it is not just about being a chef or a manager. "There are also food chemists, food photographers, food stylists, food writers," he pointed out. "We focus mostly on hands-on areas, but there also are avenues for other creative people."
Cayla Morris is sticky-fingered with dough and ready to roll. Photo by Janet Hefler
To polish their food preparation and catering skills, the MVRHS culinary arts students operate the "Back Door Bistro" in the department's own dining room. Once a week on Friday, teachers may come in and order items off the menu "to go."
Students also cook and bake for functions in and out of the high school. They prepare pastries and coffee for Back to School Night and the Breakfasts with the Principal, and bake Christmas cookies for the Tisbury Business Association, pies for the Harvest Fair and for the holidays, and specialty cakes. They also make lunch for seniors and a women's bridge club.