Taste of Education teaches high school culinary students about real-world lives of chefs

Students watch as the judges at The Education Fund's A Taste of Education event taste the dessert course.
Students watch as the judges at The Education Fund's A Taste of Education event taste the dessert course.

Culinary students from 25 high schools across Miami-Dade County prepared dishes for a table of judges and a few hundred guests to raise money and awareness for their schools’ culinary programs at The Education Fund’s A Taste of Education event.

Matthias Kammerer, one of the judges and the managing director of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, said the other purpose of the event was to help students understand the scope of the job of a chef.

“It brings the reality of running a kitchen closer to the students,” Kammerer said.

On Feb. 9, each team of up to six students entered at least one dish in one of four categories: vegetarian, meat, seafood or dessert. Seven judges, including local chefs, chose a first- and second-place winner from each category.

About $20,000 in grants were divided among all the culinary programs that participated. After the competition, the students’ meals were served at a food-and-wine festival-style event.

Students from Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School said it was a new experience for them.

“We’ve never done a competition before and we got to do everything by ourselves,” said Kyle James, who will be attending Johnson & Wales University in the fall. “We worked well together.”

The students prepared shrimp creole with mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish with crushed fried plantains, which won second place in the seafood category.

Sarah Hulse from Miami Northwestern High School said the competition taught her about culinary etiquette and working with others. She said her passion for cooking comes from the joy that it brings people.

“My mom always pushed me to cook,” Hulse said. “I love to see the smiles on other people’s faces.”

Hulse has also been nominated by her school for a Silver Knight award for the nonprofit she started, Girls Can Cook. The Silver Knight Awards are run by the Miami Herald and recognize students that have made an impact on their schools and communities.

She started Girls Can Cook to encourage girls to enter the culinary arts. “Girls see it as a man’s sport,” Hulse said. “So they sit back and let the boys get all the glory while the girls do all the work.”

Less than half of the students enrolled in the culinary programs at the International Culinary Center and the Culinary Institute of America are women, and women account for only 6.3 percent of head chef positions, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Besides the competition, the students also served their dishes to about 500 guests, including 270 volunteers who participated in The Education Fund’s Teach-A-Thon, where local business executives teach a class so they can step into the shoes of public school teachers, according to Linda Lecht, president of The Education Fund.

“Because everyone went to school, we have the sense that everyone can teach,” Lecht said. “People have no idea that you have to have a variety of different abilities. You have to be on your toes at all times. It really is brain science.”

The Education Fund is a local nonprofit that raises money for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. In the nine years that it has held the Teach-A-Thon, it has raised more than $400,000 for local schools. This was the second year for A Taste of Education.

The first-place winners for the night were North Miami High School’s vegetarian stuffed mushrooms, Coral Gables High School’s chorizo stuffed sea scallops, Miami Central’s Vietnamese pho and John A. Ferguson’s fudge trifle.

Brian Nasajon, judge and executive chef of Beaker & Gray restaurant in Wynwood, said his advice to students was to keep cooking and keep competing.

“Keep doing these things and keep pushing yourself,” Nasajon said. “Keep growing.”