It wasn't exactly a secret. There was a small advertisement on the High School View page in last week's Martha's Vineyard Times, and there were fliers around Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), but it was mainly insiders (teachers, students, friends, and repeat customers) who signed up last week to pick up pies and dinner rolls yesterday for their Thanksgiving tables tomorrow.
If you were one of the cognoscenti, you could have bought a blueberry, apple, or pumpkin pie for $10, a pecan pie for $12, or assorted dinner rolls for $2.50 per dozen from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Culinary Arts Department.
Chef/Instructor Jack O'Malley told The Times that the pie project was not intended to make a lot of money. "We're not out to compete with local businesses," he explained. The idea was to give the students some experience in that kind of catering (costing the materials and planning a mass-production baking). When Chef O'Malley spoke with The Times last week, 120 pies had been ordered. "I'm not disappointed we didn't sell 500 pies," he said. "Pies are not a big part of the [Culinary Arts] program."
The culinary department is well known on the Island. The students put on dinners and luncheons at various time during the year (Elder Services is a frequent client). Faculty and students enthusiastically take advantage of the "back door bistro," usually on Fridays, when anyone can buy that week's offering (perhaps a calzone or a taco or some other ethnic specialty) for about $5. Money earned by these projects (and the Thanksgiving sale) goes back into the Culinary Arts program.
A visitor to Chef O'Malley's kitchen sees a beehive of activity. It looks random, but it isn't. Students in white coats and white hats move purposefully about the burners, ovens, mixing machines and stainless steel tables, making dozens of meatballs, quarts of garlic butter, or large bowls of bread dough. The chef, in his high toque, watches carefully, checking the consistency of something in a mixer ("Is it getting frothy?") or giving a tip on shaping hamburger patties so they will stay juicy in the cooking ("Make them thinner in the middle.").
Because the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School is a comprehensive high school, students take other courses during the day, and scheduling restricts time in the kitchen. About 30 freshmen explore the culinary arts for six weeks as a part of the MVRHS vocational-technical introductory program. Chef O'Malley says that he usually has about 15 sophomores who continue to the next level. Only about eight juniors and six seniors are currently taking Culinary Arts, and some of those are taking it as an elective, not as a vo-tech major.
Of the six seniors, four plan to go on to post-secondary training at institutions like Johnson and Wales College, the Culinary Institute of America, and the New England Culinary Institute.
Senior Kenny Watkins, a culinary arts major, hopes to attend Johnson and Wales, which has both two-year and four-year programs. The two-year program leads to an Associate's degree (AA), which would qualify a graduate to work for a restaurant or a resort. The four-year BA in hospitality management would enable Mr. Watkins to be in charge. "I'll probably take the four-year program," he told The Times, "because I'm afraid if I left [after two years], I wouldn't get back to finish, and I want to run my own business some day."
Senior Jeff Osborn takes Culinary Arts as an elective. He plans to become a middle-school or high school teacher and a coach. He takes Culinary Arts, he says, because it's fun and useful. While he has other career plans, cooking is something he says he will have to do for himself one day, and it will be a skill he can fall back on or perhaps draw on for extra income. "I've learned a lot in this kitchen," he said. "I'm surprised at how much there is to know."
Below is a lesson from "Basic Skills III, Yeast Breads." It will be hard to follow at home unless you have a kitchen scale and a mixer large enough to handle these quantities.
Soft Roll Dough
5 ½ lbs. bread flour
8 oz. sugar
2 oz. salt
8 oz. margarine
4 oz. sifted milk powder
3 oz. dry yeast
5 cups warm water
Dissolve yeast in water and add all other ingredients, salt last. Mix on low speed for 12 minutes. Oil a mixing bowl large enough to fit the dough (knowing the dough will rise two times in size). When the dough has risen two times its size, it is ready for shaping.
Or, next Thanksgiving, buy soft rolls from the Culinary Arts Department at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.