Culinary students get help from the pros

Chef Arnym Solomon of The Culinary Institute of America talks to a group of culinary students at the Eastside High School Culinary Institute Tuesday, January 17, 2012. About a hundred culinary students from Eastside and several other area high school attended food demonstrations by Solomon and two other chefs from CIA during "Teaching with the CIA and ProStart" day.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.

Lesson one: If you don’t have a sharp knife, you’re in trouble.

Eastside High School students learned this Tuesday as Arnym Solomon, a chef of more than 30 years, lifted a thin blade and placed it against the scales of a salmon.

He sliced through the fish like warm butter.

Solomon’s nimble knife work was part of his presentation Tuesday during the Culinary Institute of America’s fourth visit to Eastside High School.

The institute’s “Teaching with the CIA” program sends some of its retired professors across the country to different high school culinary programs to show students the possibilities of a culinary career and to teach them a few cooking tips, too.

“This dish has a lot of the fundamentals,” Solomon said of the poached salmon dish he taught students to cook Tuesday. “They don’t need to know about fancy ‘Iron Chef’ stuff.”

Solomon and two other chefs performed cooking demonstrations for students of the Institute of Culinary Arts at Eastside, which is one of 239 such programs in Florida.

There are 75 students in the institute at EHS, said program director Billie DeNunzio. A magnet program now for 13 years, the institute is a competitive program with a waiting list. About 35 students are admitted each year.

They accept students with a passion for cooking, and about 80 percent of the program’s students enter the food industry after graduating high school.

Eastside’s culinary institute turns out not just future chefs but also future restaurant managers, as about one-fourth of its students pursue a career in hospitality.

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Lesson two from Solomon: Chemistry isn’t just for science class.

Solomon focused on the fundamentals with his poached salmon dish, and chef Paul Prosperi also centered his demonstration on teaching students basic but key skills as he showed them how to make a strawberry mousse.

Meanwhile, Jacqueline Pressinger, senior regional admissions officer for the Culinary Institute of America, decided to showcase more recent cooking methods using items that would be expected in a chemistry class more than in a cooking demonstration.

“I think each one of the ambassadors came with something different,” she said. “I felt my part as a more recent graduate (of the Culinary Institute of America) was to show them some of the newer, emerging techniques.”

Compressed nitrous air played its part in her presentation as students used it to create mozzarella balloons by inflating them with garlic-infused air.

Kayla Greenberg, a 16-year-old Eastside junior, assisted Pressinger with her demonstration.

“I liked the mozzarella balloons filled with garlic air,” she said. “I got to make one, and I was really proud of myself because it didn’t pop.”

Calcium chloride was another key component in Pressinger’s presentation.

Even Prosperi had a lesson in chemistry for the students as he taught them the right balance of gelatin and whipped cream in a mousse dessert.

“A pastry is chemistry,” he told them. “You have a formula, or recipe.”

About 100 students participated in the chef’s demonstrations Tuesday, including those from Eastside and students from other Florida high school culinary programs. A few students got to spend some personal time with the chefs Monday as they prepared the ingredients they would need for the following day.

Sarah Waters, a 17-year-old Eastside senior who has been in the culinary program for two years, had her work critiqued by the chefs Monday.

Waters is a member of Eastside’s culinary team, which competes at the state and national levels.

The team prepared a few of its dishes for the chefs Monday to get advice.

“It’s always nerve-wracking because you have these top chefs come and watch you,” Waters said. “It’s a lot like competitions.”

Waters is developing ideas for a dessert they could make for competitions, and Prosperi gave her tips on other recipes she could fuse with hers to make an interesting dish.

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Lesson three: This isn’t just a neat school program. This could become a rewarding career.

The main goal of the Culinary Institute of America’s “Teaching with the CIA” program is to show students the career options in the culinary arts, said Larry Lopez, director of international relations for the institute.

Because Eastside’s culinary program is well-established and is very valuable to its students, the Culinary Institute has continued to return for the past few years to excite students about a potential career in the industry, Lopez said.

“The feedback is very, very positive. Those high school students that are interested in a career definitely get back to us,” he said. “Many of them enroll in our programs. The success stories are just constant.”

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