One wouldn’t think of visiting Everett High School (EHS) to get a quality, well-thought-out meal, but – believe it or not – it wouldn’t be so far off the mark to do so.
The EHS Culinary Arts program is flourishing this year under the intensive school-sponsored
program and an innovative, private after-school initiative called Future Chefs.
And so far, it’s been a recipe for success as the EHS team competed on Jan. 21st with other high school teams and took home the award for Best Individual Dish.
The winning dish was a pesto chicken salad that was to die for, according to Future Chefs Program Manager Ann DiClemente.
The competition was part of a larger program on Jan. 21st called Career Exploration Day, where several schools in the program get together to compete and also to listen to professional chefs and food service workers.
DiClemente, who runs the program at EHS after school for 14 students twice a week, said that many of the students in Future Chefs and the EHS culinary program have a passion for food, but may not end up as a chef. Despite that, she says that they emphasize skills that will help students in any future occupation.
“We don’t expect all our students to become chefs, but we do expect them to learn transferrable skills to let them be successful in whatever they choose to do,” she said. “We teach them things like public speaking, professionalism, being on time, working as a team in a kitchen, and interviewing skills. Food service is a job they might start out in because there are a lot of opportunities there for young people. You can learn a lot from working at a CVS, but you can learn a lot more by working in a professional kitchen.”
DiClemente said that the founder and executive director, Toni Elka, has established the program not only to work with current high school students, but also to follow up with graduates of the program who are in college-level culinary arts programs or who are working in the industry.
As a result of the follow-up with former students and innovative partnerships with chefs around Boston, Future Chefs is also able to expose their students to real life kitchen anecdotes.
On Jan. 21st, chefs Bryce MacKnight of Brick & Mortar and Matthew Barros of Market by Jean-Georges spoke to students about their experiences working as a chef, about how they honed their recipes and how they broke into the business.
At the same time, those professional chefs served as judges for the cooking competition.
In the case of the EHS students, the process of coming up with the winning dish was a long one.
DiClemente said that the students worked for months to get their dish tasty and healthy.
“Each school had the challenge of creating a three-course meal that would serve as a school lunch and it had to include pizza and had to follow healthy guidelines,” she said. “The Everett kids came up with an excellent dish. They really spent a lot of time fine-tuning the recipe. They had a lot of ideas and they had to figure out how to create those ideas within the healthy eating guidelines. They wanted to do a creamy base for the pesto dressing, but a traditional creamy dressing is not healthy. So, they had to look to an alternative and they ended up using yogurt. It turned out to be a fantastic idea and they executed it well.”
In fact, DiClemente said that her boss, Elka, is working with the Boston Public Schools to include the Everett kids’ dish on that school system’s district-wide menu.
Beyond cooking and competition, DiClemente said that food service is one area of the economy where young people can find many opportunities – an economy that more and more is closing its doors on young, entry-level workers.
“We know that food service accounts for approximately 9 percent of the economy in Massachusetts,” said DiClemente. “Really, what we see is this is a pathway for young people. Not all of them will be chefs, but many of them will use these skills as a path to their first jobs. Food service is one area where the entry-level jobs are still very much open to young people.”