Story by Lisa Miceli Feliciano Photography by Eric Tetreault

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Local high school culinary programs prep kids for professional kitchens; treat visitors

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From left: Norwich Free Academy junior Ehi Ojieyan puts the finishing touches on a birthday cake; Kristin Brodeur serves lunch at Norwich Tech; Timothya Kachmar, a senior at NFA. Previous pages: Norwich Tech junior Samantha Thomas pipes cream onto cheesecake; NFA senior Khaliah Davis (red shirt), Norwich Tech student Eddie Santiago (white coat).

Budding chefs studying the culinary arts at Norwich Technical High School and Norwich Free Academy have been finding their way into the hearts and stomachs of school staff and fellow students for a while now. But who knew that the Public Dining Room at Norwich Tech (affectionately called PDR) has a loyal following including the local police, businesses and senior groups? Or that NFA’s Brickview Inn is a cool place to bring a business associate or visitors to the city? Culinary students at Norwich Tech and NFA are training to dish out everything from comfort food to diet-conscious meals – and diet-busting desserts. A teacher with only 20 minutes to spare for lunch, a student who craves a brownie, or a local business professional who wants to break from fast food can all support the Warriors or Wildcats and be satisfied at a reasonable price. It’s a win-win – students get the skills they need for a career in the food service industry, and everyone else gets to dig in to the kids’ latest creations.

ove over burger and fries and hello, mussels in brodo. Something’s cooking in Norwich and it just may be one of our town’s best-kept secrets.

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What’s cookin’ at tech

“The most important thing is the first impression,” says Chef David Grzych, head of the culinary program at Norwich Tech. “If we don’t nail it, they’re (customers) not coming back.” Excellence motivates the culinary students at tech, amid what Grzych calls daily “controlled chaos” in the vocational school’s pristine, expansive kitchen and dining area. Grzych, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, is a 25-year culinary veteran, including eight as a consultant for the State of Connecticut’s Central Office of 17 vocational programs. He developed Norwich Tech’s culinary department in 2008, and along with chefs Scott Fitzgerald and Mario Longo, runs the program. Students in the 4-year culinary program handle 91 days of trade study — culinary arts, basic food service, operating a restaurant and advanced restaurant operations — combined with 91 days of academics. Many continue on to pursue even more culinary training at schools such as Johnson and Wales. White tuxedo shirts, black pants and black bow ties comprise the uniform for waiters in the Public Dining Room. In the kitchen, chef whites, including a white t-shirt, double-breasted chef coat, neckerchief and chef hat is required. A pen, notebook and thermometer are also standard for routine morning inspection. The day starts at 7:30 a.m. with food theory (learning about chutneys, compotes and jams, flavorings, seasonings and spices), followed by menu production at 8:15 a.m. The menu changes daily, and includes two soups, salads, at least three

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entrees and dessert selection. Norwich Tech participates in the Farm-to-School Program, incorporating regional produce and meats into its menus when available. And the students don’t just serve in the public dining room – they prepare food for the entire student body every day. The straightforward directive from Chef Grzych is “don’t disrespect the food, the equipment or each other.” Hygiene, both personal and professional, is stressed along with a spic and span workplace and proper table etiquette. A morning coffee cart distributes coffee and pastries to teachers and staff who can place lunch orders for delivery to their classrooms or break rooms. The public place orders for pick-up. Students get comfortable interacting with the public in the dining room, strengthening their social skills. Norwich Police Deputy Chief Warren Mocek (a Norwich Tech alumnus), eats at the dining room “at least once or five times a week.” He said he enjoys watching the kids progress from unsure to a welloiled staff. “I’ve never been disappointed. I love the interaction and bring a lot of my staff here,” said Mocek. “It’s just a friendly atmosphere and they’re all dedicated, full of drive.” Among tech’s current culinary class is Molly Morgan, a junior from Lebanon, who plans on taking that drive to the next level. “I’m looking at both CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and Johnson and

Wales as possible schools,” Morgan said. Tina Peters, who works with Mocek, brought her mother, Paula DonovanPeters, to the tech dining room for Valentine’s Day. “The French onion soup is the best I’ve ever had.” Donovan-Peters said. “I’m just in awe. I had the mussels and they just melted in your mouth. I can’t think of another restaurant I’ve been to where everything was really delicious, from the soup right to the end. I’ll definitely be back.” For Norwich Tech history teacher and dining room regular Edward Hogan, it’s all about the soup. “(It’s) good stick to your bones kind of stuff. You can’t beat the price and also the quality of the food,” said Hogan, who had ordered lamb chili. Economics teacher Michael Gaffey said he loves the eggplant and chicken parmesan. Gaffey hosted six long-time friends with “very distinguished palates” at his home recently. “I brought two bread puddings (from Norwich Tech). (My guests) were so pleased. I told them where they came from and I was proud,” said Gaffey. Norwich Tech has a big fan base among area senior citizen groups, as well. Darcy Battye, the coordinator at Lebanon Senior Center, said tech regularly caters lunches and afternoon teas for the center. “The one thing, besides yummy, is consistency of quality. The chefs in this department and their instruction are

giving these kids a skill that they can certainly find employment with,” said Battye. “Everything that we have received from them has been flavorful, delicious and terrific quality, and they’re just so helpful and accommodating. It’s just a pleasure to deal with them. I wish more people knew and would engage them for events.”

Electing to learn about food at NFA

In operation since 1990, NFA’s Brickview Inn evokes a cozy coffeehouse, stay-awhile vibe. There are a dozen small tables, and a dessert case of pies, cakes and cookies, unavoidably near the register. Their bustling take-out service hums Continued page 53

Hours & reservations
Norwich Technical High School
The Public Dining Room is open Monday through Friday for lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. For reservations, orders or further information, contact Chef David Grzych at (860) 889-8453 ext. 2130 or David.Grzych@ct.gov. Their website is www.cttech.org/norwich/ technologies/culinary-arts.

NFA’s Brickview Inn

The Inn serves lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays from October through May, 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. For reservations, orders or further information, contact Janel O’Neil at oneilj@ nfaschool.org. (Take-out orders should be placed by 10 a.m. same day.) Visit their website at www.nfaschool.org and click on “Community” to find The Brickview Inn.
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Continued from page 39 at lunchtime, too. On a recent weekday afternoon, a student “runner” was itemizing emailed lunch orders from teachers for hand-delivery. Several students enjoyed their turkey fettuccine in the restaurant, while other staff and students picked up lunch or treats to-go, among them NFA science teacher Gabriela Gonzalez, who grabbed a hearty Tex-Mex vegetable soup, salad and cake. "They do an awesome job," said Gonzalez. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students are welcome to eat at the inn, which is managed by seniors, clad in matching red NFA polo shirts. Student bakers (most juniors) are in first thing in the morning to finish up desserts for the coming lunch, and a late-morning senior brigade arrives to prep appetizers, entrees and the dining room. Home economics instructor Janel O’Neil has taught culinary classes at NFA for 16 years and runs the Brickview Inn, which was accredited by CIA in 1997. The elective coursework (from basic foods and world foods, to gourmet cooking and restaurant management) fulfills a vocational arts requirement but can also prepare students for culinary school or professional food service jobs, whether the dream is being an executive chef, owning a bistro or working as a food stylist. O’Neil says that her main focus is on skill development, time management, teamwork, problem-solving and how they improve. For her student chefs’ loyal following, it can be love at first bite. “I’d rather manage than cook,” said NFA senior Leona Einhelligtedeschi. “I’d like to own a little restaurant or bar someday.” At the inn, students work in pairs as managers, developing menus (which include a vegetarian soup and salad as options, two entrees and two desserts) and shopping lists. Braising, sautéing and stir-frying techniques are also covered. Recent menu items have included entrees like leek and tomato quiche and coconut chicken. A recent student-created dessert: root beer Continued page 54

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Continued from page 53 ice cream sundaes (root beer ice cream topped with cream soda anglaise, toasted chopped pecans and whipped cream). The Brickview Inn posts their menus on the school’s website and also shares recipes there. Among the student’s catering jobs – a dinner for the Slater Memorial Museum and presenting partners’ distinguished scholar panel discussion program of Lincoln, the Constitution and the Civil War last November. “The service was unbelievable – delivered to the museum offices and the food was outstanding,” Slater Director Vivian Zoe said. “We had pasta, chicken parmesan, salad, the world’s best garlic bread and scrumptious desserts!” The Brickview also worked with the Slater team to supply period-appropriate foods for the museum’s Historical Fashion Show in March. Stanley commented, “They are so accommodating and the food is fresh and delicious.”

Recipes for success

The culinary programs at Norwich Tech and NFA are providing students with invaluable ingredients for real-world experience and success; those that can transfer to any business pursuit. Perhaps Norwich Tech’s Chef Longo said it best: “Whatever they learn here can’t be taken away from them. (Norwich Tech and NFA) are two good things for Norwich. It’s a secret that you don’t want to be a secret any more.”

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