Last Thursday, May 13, twenty-two students from I.S. 181 Pablo Casals Middle School, along with a much smaller group of six Truman High School culinary students, were all too happy to cut school — with teacher permission — and meet at Tosca’s Café Coal Oven restaurant in Throggs Neck.
The lunch was the second-to-last culimating event in a culinary exchange program that sent Casals kids over to Truman every Tuesday and Thursday after school since January. Through the mentoring progran, Truman kids that are in a strict culinary education track serve as sous chefs and teach the Casals students – all honors kids — to cook. Chefs Chase and Brosky, both professional chefs, run the program, and it all happens in Truman’s well-equipped kitchen.
“The older kids are nice enough, they tease us sometimes but we’re learning so much,” said Anim Xhafa, who is originally from Albania but now lives in Allerton. I.S. 181 assistant principal Nelson Medina said that the middle school students have truly thrown themselves into this program, and that none of them does it half-heartedly. “Even the louder, more rebellious kids, they love getting into the kitchen,” he beamed, watching over a table of girls as they giggled and shouted at the lunch table in Tosca’s. “It’s like a family, the older and the younger kids, and it makes a terrific opportunity for mentoring and mixing the schools.”
As they waited to give their choice of chicken parmesan, mini pizza, or cheese ravioli in vodka sauce (“Is the vodka real vodka?” asked one girl to much laughter), middle school girls discussed foods they had cooked for their families at home. Mia Rodman made fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and garlic bread for her mother, brother and cousin. “They liked it, or at least, they didn’t say anything negative,” she said. Her friend Shaiann Ferguson has also tried cooking for her mother. “She’s like, great, now I don’t have to cook so much anymore,” she joked.
Not all of the home experiments have been so successful. “I tried making fajitas for my family, but they didn’t like it, they said it wasn’t cooked well,” said Ilias Bouzahzah. “Well hey, you can’t get everything right the first time,” said his friend Anim comfortingly.
The high schoolers, meanwhile, are getting a lot out of the program, too. “We go hard on them because when you’re in the restaurant business, no one’s going to be easy on them,” said Truman senior Reginald Kelly, who is already planning to go to Le Cordon Bleu school in Florida next year, and eventually work in restaurants.
“We want to prepare them for how tough it’ll be. But we also like them. They’re like younger siblings.”
The real grand finale of the year will take place on May 27 at Truman High School, when all the students will cook for their parents in a mega, fancy International Food and Finance dinner. Yum.
Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or firstname.lastname@example.org