Culinary Arts students are using their hands-on learning to cater the Community Table event
hef Zach Lorber is showing his students how to make pasta. He runs through a quick demonstration: make a well in a pile of flour, add the eggs, mix to form a dough, knead until smooth. It takes maybe five minutes, and then he sends his class back to their benches, where they dive into this new task.
It’s new because these are high schoolers, not culinary school students, but the reality is that they’re learning something new every day in Chef Lorber’s Culinary Arts program at the State College Area High School.
“This is every day,” says Lorber, looking around the brand-new kitchen facilities. “When I started in January, they hadn’t really been in the kitchen much. This group has been in the kitchen more than 90% of their time.”
Besides a series of standard tasks set by the state for culinary program at this level, the curriculum is up to Lorber. “I can do whatever I want,” he says, “so I said, ‘We’re going in the kitchen.’”
He puts together week-long programs focusing on one region’s cuisine or, like the students are working on now, an event. They’re prepping for Community Table, a new fundraiser for the Community Cafe at St. Andrew’s in State College, which serves up a free meal each Thursday. Cramer Farm in Howard is hosting the event — as well as providing most of the ingredients for the creative heavy hors d’oeuvres that will be served.
“I picked up 100 pounds of produce and 90 pounds of pork,” says Lorber. “There will be chickens waiting at my house when I get home.”
He and his students have been working diligently to turn all of that farm-fresh produce into delectable treats for the event’s guests. They’ve already made tomato jam, which will be served with a freshly baked focaccia topped with ratatouille vegetables. They’re curing a ham, which will be smoked along with pork belly, and get turned into mini cuban sandwiches complete with zucchini pickles and homemade mustard. Multiples heads of cabbage went into making a sauerkraut that will be baked into rye and served with braunschweiger; the rest of the cabbage will get cooked with myriad other in-season veggies and become steamed vegetable dumplings.
“It’s going to be awesome,” says Lorber.
Maybe all of that seems like a lot to learn in two weeks, but Lorber wants them to experience — hands on, of course — as much as possible.
“The whole goal of the program is they can go into a restaurant and be job ready,” he says. “We’re also pushing career readiness and life skills: how to work in a team, how to take critique, how to overcome challenges. So no matter what they do, they’re going to leave here a stronger, employable person.”
As for that pasta, well, the students enjoyed the fruits of their labors, but guests at Community Table will enjoy a flavored pasta made with the fresh knowledge of fledgling chefs.
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