Students are serving up success

While some school cafeterias may smell of deep-fried food, but a healthier aroma, a mixture of spices and possibly roasted vegetables, wafts from the Friday Harbor High School cafeteria. The difference is largely due to the Food for Thought lunch program and chef internship.

“It’s a unique program with a lot of moving parts,” Andrew Radzialowski, lead chef at the Friday Harbor School District, said. “It has worked-based component, with the internship, and the kids come in as though they are coming into a job.”

As a way to showcase the program, the students will prepare a dinner for the community from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9, in the Friday Harbor High School commons.

Suggested donations are $15 for adults and $7 for children under 12. Funds support the Chef student internship, and the Food for Thought lunch program.

Community dinners are usually three times a year, according to Radzialowski, an average of 300-350 islanders come to the feasts.

More than a decade ago, Radzialowski and Elizabeth Varvaro were hired by the Friday Harbor School District and hit the ground running to devise a progressive and healthy food program for the school. The result was the chef internship, which provides students with necessary kitchen skills and the lunch program. Ashley Spendiff came on board soon after.

The three adults brainstorm menu ideas for the community dinners, according to Radzialowski, and local and seasonal ingredients are used as much as possible.

“I try to highlight local farms as much as I can,” Radzialowski said, adding, “It’s fun to show the kids what we have on the island.”

The fall dinner theme is a fall harvest, consisting of recipes like squash or yams, and perhaps apples, pears, and even mushrooms.

Oct. 9 menu follows that concept, it includes roasted pork loin with basil pesto; apple, leek and mushroom stuffing; sweet potato and yam mash; squash soup; rustic bread rolls; and a local fall salad.

For dessert, there will be an autumn sweet prepared by Varvaro’s baking class. Varvaro, Radzialowski noted, offers three cooking classes at the high school.

During the winter, usually in December, the community dinner features comfort foods, and the spring dinner which usually takes place close to May 5, often has a Cinco de Mayo theme.

Over the years, students who participated in community meal preparations have continued on to culinary school and have received jobs in restaurants locally as well as Seattle and elsewhere. The youth learn cooking basics, like knife work and prepping. It also guides them to become productive adults.

“We have been able to turn kids around that were heading in the wrong direction,” Radzialowski said. “We get students that may not really like school — their attendance may not be great — but because of this program they end up liking it and looking forward to going to school and become better students.”

Radzialowski continued to explain that through cooking the teens discover how subjects like math are applied throughout daily life. It also teaches the students tangible skills and basic work ethic, he added.

“Whether they end up working in the hospitality industry or not, they learn the importance of being responsible, showing up to work on time, what it means to take pride in your work and [how to] be a good person,” Radzialowski said.

A bulk of the students who participate also eat lunch in the program, Radzialowski added, which is how he knows they are proud of their work.

“We often hear them talking to their friends saying things like ‘I made that,’” Radzialowski said. “This is a unique program and it challenges the kids in different ways, which can help prepare them for life. This kitchen is a real-life situation.”