2017-11-30 / Front Page

NACTC Culinary Program Keeps Cooking

By Christopher Allen

Chef Steven Kalble (L) teaches NACTC student Maximilian Hubbard the nuance of the perfect pie crust. (Photo by Jen Carter) Chef Steven Kalble (L) teaches NACTC student Maximilian Hubbard the nuance of the perfect pie crust. (Photo by Jen Carter) Picturing a high school campus, many images come to mind: gymnasiums decorated with banners, science labs filled with beakers and microscopes, a parking lot of used cars.

But what about a huge three-ring binder of recipes covered in flour? Or a 10-burner stove rescued from oblivion, upon which sits a giant pot of simmering turkey stock?

No, this isn’t the cafeteria lunch lady’s realm. In this full-service kitchen tucked away in an unassuming building on the Rogers High School campus, quality rules over quantity. Welcome to the Newport Area Career and Technical Center’s (NACTC) Culinary Arts program.

NACTC, a publicly funded career and technology school, allows students from Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton to attend free of charge. The program also includes study in cosmetology, automotive and construction.

NACTC students Maximilian Hubbard (L) and Ryan Rubin stay on top of the cuisine at the Colonial’s busy kitchen. (Photo by Jen Carter) NACTC students Maximilian Hubbard (L) and Ryan Rubin stay on top of the cuisine at the Colonial’s busy kitchen. (Photo by Jen Carter) Led by veteran chef Steven Kalble, the 48-student culinary enterprise is in the midst of one of its biggest pushes of the year. This season brings with it a mighty list of orders from locals looking to augment their holiday spreads. Add to this the catering jobs NACTC takes on, including a 150-person dinner at Thompson Middle School and an order of 10 turkeys and two gallons of gravy for the Newport Mental Health Center, and the list is daunting.

Consider these staggering numbers: 20 turkeys, deboned, roasted and tied; 50 pounds of stuffing; 20 gallons of gravy; 50 pounds of mashed potatoes; and more than 200 chocolate chip cookies. And then there are the approximately 400 pumpkin, apple, cherry, blueberry and pecan pies.

Not only is today’s team serving the usual Wednesday afternoon diners in the Colonial Dining Room, situated inside the NACTC building, they are in the middle of the multi-day effort to complete the long list of Thanksgiving orders before the holiday break.

But Kalble has been here before. Now in his ninth year running the 44-year-old program, he exudes the type of enthusiasm for his students and their mission that inspires relief in administrations and parents. And he makes it a point to relay the core foundation of the program: these kids want to be here.

The minimum time to complete the program is two years if a student has past experience, Kalble said. Otherwise, it takes three years. The 400-hour program ends with students taking ProStart exams, administered by the National Restaurant Association.

“With the ProStart certification, they also get a Servsafe Sanitation Management degree,” Kalble said. Per state law, every restaurant must have at least one Servsafe-certified worker on premises at all times. The degree, he said, gives NACTC students an advantage over many of their industry co-workers.

The Colonial works culinary themes in two-week cycles. The theme during the week of Nov. 19 was “Vintage American,” with classic high-end fare like caviar canapes, stuffed eggs and royal prime rib with a choice of au jus or bearnaise. Sides included creamed spinach and cauliflower au gratin. It was a menu fit for a 20th century Bellevue ball.

During lunch on Nov. 15, a succulent prime rib sat on the counter while Jenn Jolie whisked up the bearnaise sauce. “It’s resting,” said Jolie, Kalble’s sous chef who has been with the program for six years.

Working the line this Wednesday afternoon was Jakob Fedrizzi. Now a senior at Rogers, Fedrizzi hails from a culinary family. His father and mother are both local cooks and while he wasn’t always convinced he would follow suit, a twist of fate thrust him into the kitchen.

One busy midsummer night at the Clarke Cooke House, where his father was working, opportunity knocked. “Two dishwashers just left [midshift]. They walked out,” he said. Fedrizzi got the call, becoming a dishwasher at the famed waterfront restaurant, and eventually moving into a spot as a line cook.

Fedrizzi is unsure whether he’ll spend his life as a chef, but is glad he’ll leave high school with the option to cook through college and beyond. “Before I flesh out my career path, I’d like to learn more of the business side,” he said.

Other students have lifelong culinary ambitions. Alex Dizon, a Rogers junior in his third year with the program, is one of two candidates slated to complete four consecutive years. “You get so much experience from the [visiting] chefs,” he said. “When they come here they meet you and know who you are.”

Dizon plans on attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, jokingly referred to as the CIA, after graduation. He’s confident the skills he has acquired in the culinary program will get him a step ahead as he pursues postsecondary education. “You are [already] working in a kitchen environment, so you know how it rolls,” he said.

As the midweek lunch continues, the controlled chaos has settled down a bit. Most of the lunch rush orders have been completed and each station seems less hectic.

Max Hubbard, an enthusiastic junior who commutes from Jamestown, is looking for something to do. He runs over to the cookie station, asking Middletown senior Vanessa Gardner if she needs help.

Gardner, standing in front of a large silver container of chocolate chip cookie dough, obliges. The job is formidable, as Vanessa has no end in sight to the measuring, cutting and spreading. “I just keep making them,” she says, smiling.

Jolie wanders over to check her progress, offering a valuable lesson to ensure cookie customer satisfaction. “It’s got to be consistent,” she says.

Consistency is also key in education, but any teacher knows they can only take their students so far. The rest is up to them.

“[NACTC] is not the career technical education from the ‘70s,” Kalble says. “All my students are job ready. I tell my students that they need to have passion in whatever they decide to do. I can't teach passion; you have it in your heart.”

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