Culinary arts program launched at Ellis Tech
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Sep. 16, 2013
Chef David Grzych moved around the Harvard H. Ellis Technical School’s new state-of-the-art kitchen on Sept. 10, keeping tabs on his students. Grzych is an energetic man, and he has to be. By 10 a.m. he was getting ready for the first of four lunch waves that bring 587 students through the dining room. Not only is he the department head of the school’s new culinary arts program, he also works closely with the head cook of the cafeteria.
“Is this it for cukes?” he asked a student, pointing to a huge bowl filled with chunks of cucumbers. He told her to cover the bowl and refrigerate it. “Where’s the confectioner’s sugar?” he asked another student who was following a chocolate chip cookie recipe. He moved between four kitchen areas, checking the progress of recipes, answering questions and teaching. “Little 't' means teaspoon. Big 'T' means tablespoon,” he reminded someone.
Grzych comes to Ellis Tech with a long history of teaching culinary arts. He’s taught at Norwich Tech, Windham Tech and Grasso Tech, and has served as a consultant in the central office for several years. “We’re thrilled to have him here,” said Principal Dr. Brian Mignault.
Grzych is being assisted by substitute teacher Sameh Mansur. That afternoon Mansur was teaching a group of students about onions. Then he took out a chef’s knife and demonstrated the best way to dice one. “Slice it in half and keep the root away from you,” he said, showing them what the root end of an onion looks like. He gripped the onion with his fingertips. “Slice it not quite to the end,” he said, then showed what he meant. Because all the slices were connected, it made dicing easier. “You’ll get it,” he said, as each student gave it a try.
Assistant Principal Angela Corentin calls the students in the culinary arts program very fortunate. “David has had a lot of experience working with many children over the years,” she said. “He will do whatever it takes. He will go over and above. He’s absolutely fantastic.”
After a tough application and interview process, 10 juniors and seven sophomores were chosen for the program. Because those students will need to “fast track” through the program, fewer slots were available. Before graduating, sophomores will need to make up a half year and juniors one and a half years of a program that should have started in the middle of their freshman year. Eighteen freshmen will join the program in December when they make their final shop selection.
A cafeteria kitchen, restaurant kitchen, bakery and dining area await them. Brand new stainless steel Vulcan stoves and Blodgett pizza ovens shine in the new space. Combination ovens will allow students to cook with dry heat, moist heat, and a combination of the two. Trays of hotel pans and various-sized mixing bowls are there for their use. Fry pans are lined up on shelves according to their size. Even the fryolater is beautiful.
The students will get to work in the new space as well as help the cafeteria crew with lunches. They will help serve in the student cafeteria, a large, brightly-lit area with tiled walls and a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows. In late spring or early fall, Grzych hopes to have a dining room open to the public.
Andre Bouchard came to Ellis two years ago hoping for a culinary arts program. He’s pleased that the program is finally in place. The same goes for Dakota Cook, who has traded in carpentry tools for Hobart mixers and combination ovens. The two students and their classmates were getting fitted for their uniforms. Each will wear a white chef’s coat, baggy chef pants and hat while working in the kitchen. Those uniforms will change when they start serving meals. Students will spend nine days in the shop, followed by nine days of academics for the rest of the year.
“I stress to my students that I can help them with cooking mistakes, but baking recipes are proven formulas,” he said. “If they make a measurement mistake, I don’t have the magic hands to fix it.”
Mignault said the job prospects for culinary arts students are good. “We have the two biggest casinos in the world in the area,” he said. Those casinos are home to a wide variety of restaurants. “The opportunity there alone is significant. This whole area is heavily dependent on tourism.”
Already the products coming from the kitchen are impressing Ellis Tech staff. “Everything we’ve had a chance to sample has been outstanding,” Mignault said. That sampling has included chocolate mousse, salsa, blueberry cake and chocolate chip cookies. “He’s worked wonders with basil,” Corentin added.