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Nov 21, 2011 6:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Guest Chef Program Takes Root In Hampton Bays

Nov 22, 2011 9:16 AM

The Hampton Bays High School kitchen was busy last week as the school district’s guest chef program—a new initiative in which chefs from local restaurants cook meals for students in the district’s cafeterias—was firing on all burners for the first time.

Students were treated to an array of foods last Wednesday, November 16, all whipped up by Cheffe Collette and Cheffe Pamela, both of the Inn Spot on the Bay in Hampton Bays. Together, they created a menu that featured barbecue pork sliders, mashed potato salad, split pea soup served in bread bowls and, to top it all off, pear almond cake for dessert.

The students, who paid the same amount for the gourmet food as they would have for their regular school lunches, seemed to quickly warm to the idea. In fact, things were going so well that school officials began to worry that they might run out of food.

“This is one of our efforts to kick things up a notch,” said Larry Luce, the business administrator for the Hampton Bays School District, about the new program that was rolled out last week and intended to encourage students to eat more freshly prepared foods.

Mr. Luce first pitched this program to the School Board in early October and, by late November, was granted permission to move it forward.

Cheffe Pamela, a graduate of Hampton Bays, smirked while recalling the food she was offered as a high school student.

“I honestly just brought my own lunch when I went here,” she said. “It just shows that a few minor changes can make a huge difference.”

The guest chefs arrived at the school around 8 a.m. last week and were assisted in the kitchen by the regular cafeteria staffers employed by Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service provider. Another perk of the program, Mr. Luce noted, is that cafeteria workers are getting the opportunity to work alongside professional chefs. Approximately 10 people were working in the kitchen last Wednesday, getting ready for the lunch crowd.

“The chefs have already asked us when they can come back,” said Christine Kunnman, the district manager for Whitsons Culinary Group. “It is exciting for us and the staff and the kids ... ” she said. “It is really just an unbelievable opportunity.”

And most students agreed that the chefs earned high marks.

“I loved it,” said Kat O’Gara, 14, a freshmen who said she usually buys her lunch from the school once or twice a week. “It was so good.”

Other students, like senior Alex Boyer, 17, were just as excited. “I actually really liked the sliders,” Alex said. “They were really good, and now I’m going to indulge in this cake.”

The food was also a hit among teachers.

“It is tickling my palate,” said Rich Ianelli, a science teacher at the high school.

“It is a nice change of pace,” added physical education teacher George Zembrycki who, along with science teacher Nancy Larsen, also sampled the food in the cafeteria.

The guest chef program is scheduled to continue next month when another chef, who has not been selected yet, will prepare homemade foods for elementary school students.

“I think it is a great idea to give kids a restaurant meal once in a while at school,” Cheffe Pamela said. “It is nice to give back to the community a little bit with something. This is great and if other chefs get involved, they have something great going on here.”

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