2015-03-19 / Front Page

Students Handle Heat in the Kitchen

By Olga Enger

Klaudia Oliveira-McCloy and Christina Kennedy are two of the NACTC students who recently won $27,000 at a state culinary competition. Klaudia Oliveira-McCloy and Christina Kennedy are two of the NACTC students who recently won $27,000 at a state culinary competition. A bell rings at 11 a.m. It’s lunchtime at Rogers High School, but one group will not be lining up in the cafeteria with the rest of the students. Teachers and hungry residents file into the Colonial Dining Room where a team of culinary students are prepared to take their orders.

“Everything is made from scratch,” explains Chef Stephen Kalble as he places egg drop soup into the warmers. “The students do it all, from the front of the house to the prep, baking and to dishwashing. All food sales go back into the program, which is self-sufficient.”

The sage green dining room walls, a color pulled from early American history, serve as a canvas for colorful scenes of Newport, painted by local artist Eveline Roberge. Kalble, who has been at the school for eight years, is only the third instructor to lead the school since its inception in 1973. The program is part of the Newport Area Career and Technical Center (NACTC), which serves students from Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton and North Kingstown.

As the orders come in, Ronnie Santamaria, a junior at Rogers, works the grill.

“This cheese-steak sandwich is for here, not to go,” says Erin Kenny, a technical assistant for the program. Santamaria nods, removes the wrapper, and places the sandwich on a plate.

“I’m missing a crab rangoon. Mr. Ponte is just a cheeseburger, no fries,” says Kenny, inspecting the orders on the line. A crab ragoon quickly appears. Santamaria remains unflustered.

“We don’t have conflict in the kitchen,” remarks Kalble, as he walks to the bakery section to check the rising dough. The chef stops to admire a tray of perfectly formed baguettes, still warm from the oven’s heat. “Eighth graders made these. Can you believe it?”

The students’ remarkable ability to stay focused under the pressure has recently paid off. Five students, including Santamaria, recently walked away with more than $27,000 each in scholarship money after they placed second in a statewide culinary competition.

The ProStart Competition, held at the convention center in Providence, requires students to prepare a three-course menu in under 60 minutes, using only two butane burners.

“They missed first place by only seven-tenths of a point,” Kalble says proudly.

“The judge said our appetizer was the best thing he has tasted at ProStart competition,” adds Jennifer Jolie, the other technical assistant on Kalble’s team.

Klaudia Oliveira-McCloy, a Rogers junior, explains the most challenging part of the competition was the final 20 seconds, when she struggled with the chocolate garnish. “I just took a step back,” said the aspiring chef. The soft spoken girl said that before she met Chef Kalble, she had never considered a culinary career, but she has now found her calling.

“Chef came into class one day and asked the students if it was something they would like to try,” recalls Oliveira-McCloy. She plans to use the scholarship to continue her training after high school. “I would definitely encourage other students to try out the program if they have an interest in hospitality.”

“There are so many opportunities here, it’s amazing,” agrees Santamaria. “I’ve always had a passion for food. I love everything about French food; it’s very beautiful.”

Like his teammates, Rogers senior Corey Anderson will also pursue a culinary career because of the program.

“I tried the automotive program at NACTC, but it wasn’t something I was interested in,” says Anderson. He plans to use his scholarship to attend the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.

Chef Kalble estimates up to 90 percent of his students that stick with the program go into advanced training or culinary careers. Kalble, originally from upstate New York, may inspire students because he was once in their position.

“I remember what it was like to be in high school. The traditional college was not a path for me,” says the chef. While working with a caterer in New York, the owner encouraged Kalble to attend culinary school. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I graduated top ten in my class.”

He said students that may struggle with traditional classrooms often thrive in the culinary program. “Nobody is here unless they want to be.”

The Colonial Dining Room is open Wednesday through Friday for breakfast and lunch.

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