High school students take over Town resto in “pop-up” fundraiser

High school students take over Town resto in “pop-up” fundraiser

Longfields-Davidson Heights students serve four-course dinner to raise $3,000 for skateboard park

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JUN 05 14 – 10:40 AM — I’m always heartened to see young people hone some pretty impressive skills in the kitchen — proof positive that, among some teenagers anyway, good eats aren’t always found in a pizza box.

IMG_3285 copyBut imagine the performance Monday when six graduating Grade 12 students from the culinary program at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School took over the kitchen at 48-seat Town restaurant on Elgin Street, serving a four-course “pop-up” dinner to raise money for a $400,000 skateboard park. The park, a project of Ottawa Skateboard Community Association #1SquareFoot, begins construction within weeks at McNabb Park in Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood.

Photo right, culinary students Jordan Whiteman and Megan Firth doing prep work in cramped quarters.

Amazingly, they raised roughly $3,000 in one night.

On the menu for some 35 customers at $65 a plate ($85 with optional wine pairings): halibut ceviche, home-made herbed ricotta stuffed raviolo, arugula pesto marinated chicken, and rich dark chocolate lava cake with rhubarb sorbet for dessert. Every morsel made from scratch, by the way.

“This was a collaborative effort between students, Town owner/chef Mac Doiron, and myself,” says school instructor Kent Van Dyk, a Red Seal chef who set up the high school culinary arts program four years ago when Longfields opened in suburban Barrhaven.

IMG_3414“We went through the menu to see what Town restaurant does, then Marc came down to the school and talked to the kids about dinner plans. We worked together to see what was possible.

“The first course, halibut ceviche with chilled spring pea soup (photo, left), was inspired by a meal we had during a recent field trip to Toronto where we served ceviche by chef Rob Bragagnolo at Marben restaurant,” Van Dyk says. “The chef showed us the technique, and the kids thought we could do that at our fundraising dinner at Town,” Van Dyk says.

“They wanted to pair it with something seasonal, so that’s how we came up with chilled pea soup.”

Tony Christoforatos, who recently joined Van Dyk as a chef/instructor in the school culinary program, says he’s never before seen such a comprehensive curriculum for such a young age group that touches all aspects of food, hygiene and nutrition — not just cooking. “It challenges their notions about where food really comes from,” Christoforatos says.

“We demystify the cooking process and get them thinking away from the notion that food comes from a box. So we give them the basic building blocks to prepare food.

“Here almost all the culinary theory comes through hands-on work. Some of the kids are really amazing, while others are still developing menu skills and motor dexterity. The dinner at Town exposes them to the reality of restaurant service,” Christoforatos says.

“There’s nothing more pressure-bound than restaurant service. And these kids have enormous pride in their work.”

town1Top, chef/instructor Kent Van Dyk, left, with Town chef/owner Marc Doiron. Bottom L-R chef Marc Doiron, students Jordan Whiteman and Megan Firth plate the ceviche/pea soup appetizer.

Town owners Doiron and his wife, Lori Wojcik, have been regular contributors to the culinary program by participating each year in the school’s annual Food For Thought gala dinner. This is the second graduating class — in four years the culinary course has seen 250 students; 36 have graduated so far.

“We came to know Kent as a regular customer, and developed a friendship,” Doiron says.

“I just think he has a great program at Longfields. I mean, if I was in high school I’d be all over a program like this. We limited reservations for the dinner because we didn’t want to make it too stressful for the kids,” Doiron says.

“They came up with the whole thing, it’s totally their menu. They’re taking over the restaurant as if it was their own place, and they have to work under a real deadline just like regular service. Then, after 9 p.m. we open the doors by donation only to serve hors d’oeuvres, which gives the kids experience with serving late-night food.

“This is the first time we’ve had kids take over our kitchen, and I’m very impressed.”

town2aLeft, student Aaron North hand-crafts ricotta-stuffed raviolo; Right, Town staffers (who volunteered for the evening) Caroline Murphy and Vu Duong with chefs Marc Doiron and Kent Van Dyk.

#1SquareFoot has so far raised $25,000 toward its $100,000 contribution to the $400,000 skateboard park.

“According to the city there are 13 skateboard parks out there, but we say there are really only three that are acceptable — that is, designed by skateboarders in consultation with the community, made with concrete,” says Aaron Cayer, owner of Antique Skate Shop.

“That’s what’s going in McNabb Park in two phases. So far we’ve got $300,000 from the city to begin construction this summer, and we’re raising another $100,000 to make the park go from decent to really good.

“For us it’s a way to show the city what we can do in partnership with them, ensuring the facility is used and well programmed.”

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Second course: Hand-made herb ricotta stuffed ravioli with grilled asparagus and roasted tomato garnished with olive oil, shaved parmesan.

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Arugula pesto marinated chicken cooked sous vide (1 hour at 155°F, then seared and finished in oven) with creamy polenta and rapini.

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Dessert: Dark chocolate lava cake with rhubarb sorbet, strawberry coulis.

“It was a really great time with the kids,” Wojcik says.

“It’s always great to see our space being used for a different purpose. The kids did such a good job and we think they definitely learned what it can be like to work in a professional kitchen with all the pressure of getting out a meal, the pride of serving food that others enjoy, and the need to work as a team,” Wojcik says.

Adds Van Dyk: “None of the students had ever stepped foot in a professional kitchen before, and they did a great job.

“These ‘outside-the-box’ learning and teaching experiences show the kids the real world of cooking — if only for a night. I think they all realized how hard this job can be, but rewarding as well when they see people love the food you made for them.

“Fortunately, I have great friends in the business who are very supportive of the program, a great school principal who supports what we do, and an amazing colleague, chef Tony Christoforatos, who’s always up for the challenge,” Van Dyk says.

“I’d love to do this again at Town or other restaurants that would have us.”

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