HONESDALE, PA — The plates just kept coming.
Barbecue pulled pork made with Piedmont sauce, served with hush puppies, sweet potato fries and coleslaw; tomato pie, served with …
HONESDALE, PA — The plates just kept coming.
Barbecue pulled pork made with Piedmont sauce, served with hush puppies, sweet potato fries and coleslaw; tomato pie, served with mushroom-stuffed zucchini, Carolina red rice, black-eyed pea salad and pickles; macaroni and cheese with smothered leeks, tomato cobbler and a five-bean salad; Texas-style smoked pork ribs, creamed corn, potato salad, cowboy beans and fried pickles.
By the time Wallenpaupack Area School District Superintendent Michael Silsby was served bacon-wrapped meatloaf with gravy, he remarked to his fellow culinary judges, “The grand finale,” sounding almost relieved.
A few minutes later, when high school senior Jack Filip approached the judges table with yet another hefty helping of Southern comfort food that could sate the most ravenous of diners, Silsby looked up from up his plate, incredulous: “There’s more?”
The inaugural Chefs on Fire “barbecue extravaganza” was a multifaceted event: an educational experience for Wallenpaupack High School’s culinary students, a day of collaboration throughout the Wayne County community and a fundraiser for the area’s Emergency Food Relief Fund.
Setting up shop last Thursday in the Hop Barons Kitchen in downtown Honesdale, the high schoolers—led by senior class chefs Jason Kappes, Autumn Goonan and the aforementioned Filip—prepared meals for three local celebrity judges: superintendent Silsby, Wayne County Community Foundation Executive Director Ryanne Jennings and head chef at the French Manor Keegan Marchand.
Finishing the judges’ meals was only the first course for the students, however, who spent the remainder of the night fulfilling take-out orders that local residents had placed online.
The ambitious workload and diverse menu of dishes can be attributed to the students’ instructor Chef Cheryl Lewis, a world traveler who uses food as a gateway into far away regions and cultures.
“I am a map freak, so I bring that into the classroom with [the students]; we have maps everywhere. And so, for them to be transported to Memphis—or Texas Hill Country, or the Golden Triangle, which borders Louisiana, or the Low Country of North Carolina—was huge,” she said. “I’ve found that most of these kids haven’t traveled; the farthest place they’ve gone from Pennsylvania is New York, and many of them come from New York originally. So for me, the most exciting part of this day was transporting them across the United States.”
Lewis was also pleased for the students to be spending the night fulfilling takeout orders, giving them a peek into the reality of running a restaurant today.
“The hospitality [industry] has changed because of COVID-19, forever... so this is the wave of the future: carry-out,” she said, pointing to the students as they worked to efficiently get the meals prepped and sorted for an incoming flurry of orders. “Carry-out is not just pizza anymore.”
Marchand, a Wallenpaupack graduate himself, was not just simply impressed by the quality of the meals he ate: Seeing the students’ energy as they worked with Chef Lewis made his “heart sing.”
“I can just see that [Lewis] is great with the kids and that’s how it was for me,” he said. “I talk to my culinary instructors from high school once or twice a month. It’s a lifelong connection with a professional in the area, a mentor; we need more of that kind of stuff.”
Filip is currently choosing between attending Penn State and the Culinary Institute of America and plans to major in hospitality management. Not all the students in the culinary program plan to make it a career. Kappes plans to go into auto detailing and Goonan expects to get a Masters in social work. As Jennings pointed out after finishing her judge’s fixings, though, the art of cooking well is valuable beyond the professional realm.
“Even if they don’t become chefs, these are skills that they’ll have and be able to use for the rest of their lives,” she said.
And while it was a night of abundance, none of it went to waste. In addition to all the proceeds going to the Wayne County Community Foundation’s Emergency Food Relief Fund, any meals left over when the night was over were delivered to the Cooperage Project the following day to be included in its ongoing meal program. There probably wasn’t a whole lot left over by the end of the night, though. Just as the evening was getting underway, it was reported that the online orders had hit their full capacity—sold out.
Leading up to the event, the culinary class visited several local kitchens, getting to know their “mentor chefs”: Caleb Johnson of Native Food and Drink, Ben Cooper of Here & Now Brewing Company and Dan Corcoran of the Woodloch Resort. The chefs talked with their new mentees about careers in the culinary arts and demonstrated how to make different dishes. Cooper may have achieved the most shock value inside his kitchen, which contained a half pig used to demonstrate the butchering process.
“I knew that a lot of tonight’s menu was pork-focused, so I wanted to show them where the cuts on the actual animal were made,” Cooper said. Though most were caught off-guard stepping into his kitchen and seeing a “100-pound carcass of pork” before them, Cooper said that as the demonstration got underway, students were helping him with making the cuts.
Hop Barons Kitchen founders Jason Nacinovich and Chris Tuleya said the inaugural Chefs on Fire was a “true community collaboration”: In addition to the local kitchens and the community foundation, the event was sponsored by Dave’s Super Duper, which donated all ingredients to make the meals; Be Kind Bake House, which donated dessert; Quality Printing & Design, which created and contributed the informational materials; Wally Life, which covered the event; and ReMax Wayne, which donated a box truck for transporting materials from the high school.
“It was a great effort throughout the entire community,” Tuleya said.