The menu for today is rack of lamb served with roasted asparagus, glazed carrots and quinoa, with a berry trifle for dessert. You might think you’re dining in a five star restaurant, but this menu was developed and prepared by the UMFS Charterhouse School culinary students.
Under the direction of Chef Lara Brown, the culinary program has grown significantly over the last two years. Over the course of the school year, the students grow from culinary novices into ServSafe certified caterers. Chef Brown spends the first two months of each school year teaching basic kitchen skills, which helps prepare students for the ServSafe certification test. ServSafe is a nationally recognized restaurant certification that has helped several students secure jobs.
Once students have learned the basics, they’re ready to tackle more complicated projects. Each year, the culinary program caters over 30 meals. They have catered everything from a UMFS lunch meeting for 10 staff members to a proper English tea event for 100 people. The students manage each step of the process, with guidance from Chef Brown. They approve each catering job, develop the menu, research and select recipes, develop the food order, prepare the food, and serve the meal. Each step of the process provides valuable learning and experience for the students.
The pride the culinary students have in their accomplishments shines through when they talk about the program. “That was my menu. That was my lamb, and everybody loved it. I was so excited!” remembered Mya. She really enjoyed catering. “You get to see people’s reaction and appreciation. To see that we’ve touched people – that’s worth more than any gift.”
Charles will be using his culinary class experience when he enters the culinary arts program at Reynolds Community College this fall. Charles really liked developing menus. His favorite menu was flank steak with grilled asparagus, mac & cheese, and lemon bars. The mac & cheese was his favorite dish. “I put a special turn on it,” he said with a big smile. Charles also had the honor of joining Chef Brown for a live television cooking segment on the CBS station in Richmond. Charles was nervous at first, “but then I got used to it,” he recalled. They baked a delicious batch of hazelnut cookies for the Virginia This Morning program.
Chef Brown works hard to empower her students. “I want everyone to be successful, without handing it to them.” She starts her classes by checking in with each student to find out how they’re doing that day. She always has a listening ear for those who are struggling, and they really appreciate it. “The kitchen is a safe haven,” shared Mya. “Everyone is always welcome.”
Working together to master a dish, develop a menu, or cater a meal also teaches the students valuable life skills. As one student shared, the biggest lesson she learned from Chef Brown is “to treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s much bigger than what you learned as a kid. I’ve learned to stay positive, help others and stay true to myself.”