Of all the selections on the evening's menu - from the salmon gravlax with maple dill Dijon and polenta crouton topped with caramelized onion and shitake mushroom, to the matelote of monkfish with gilfeather turnip puree, Keishuana White was most looking forward to the chicken and duck galantine.
"I've never had duck before," said White, 16, a student from Chicopee High School. "It'll be a new experience for me."
Not only did White get to try the duck, she also helped prepare it -- with help from students in HCC's Culinary Arts program.
White belongs to a youth group called FFEEST, Food & Fitness Education Empowerment Sustainability, which is run through the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council. Arielle Aronoff, the council's youth food advocate, said the goal of FFEEST is to teach students culinary arts, "from start to finish," and empowering people to make better choices about food.
About a dozen youths from FFEEST visited HCC on several occasions this semester, receiving kitchen and cooking lessons from HCC students as part of a Service Learning project. The partnership culminated in a special dinner Nov. 29th in the Picknelly Dining Room for about 60 people, prepared by FFEEST and HCC students working together.
"We invited them up here," said Chef Warren Leigh, a professor in HCC's Culinary program. "Our students demonstrated knife skills, taught them about healthy cooking, how to thicken sauces, puree vegetables, basically how to work in a commercial-style kitchen."
In preparation for the Service Learning celebration dinner, White had the opportunity to cut and quarter chickens and duck, season the salmon and chop Swiss chard and onions.
"Remember," Leigh commanded before the dinner, "tonight, olive oil only, no butter."
Typically, HCC students participating in Service Learning projects work off campus with different community groups. Other projects this semester have taken students from different HCC classes to the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, the South Hadley Food Pantry, Homework House, the Gandara Center and The Care Center. This one was different, though, in that the community group traveled to HCC.
"It's been really great," said Lisa Mahon, HCC Service Learning coordinator. "The kids have gotten a birds-eye view of what it's like to be in college. They're getting to see what it's like to plan an event from start to finish, working on the menu, prepping it all, figuring out the seating. And the Culinary Arts students not only get to serve as mentors but also show their knowledge and grapple with what they've learned as they try to teach these young people what to do. It's a good collaboration."
The purpose behind all Service Learning projects is to foster civic awareness by giving students hands-on experience working in the community.
"That's what we're hoping for," said Leigh, "that students will develop a sensitivity about doing this. I'm hoping this year to do a service learning component in each of my classes, and hopefully we'll get to the point where our students are doing it on their own."
Photos:(Left) Keianah Calderon, a sophomore from Holyoke High School, cuts onions in preparation for a dinner celebrating HCC's Service Learning partnerships. (Right) HCC Culinary Arts lab technician, Jason Vincent, demonstrates the proper way to cut beets. (Thumbnail) Justin Baez-Semidei, 18, from Holyoke High, cuts beets.