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Restaurant Mecca Welcomes New Culinary Arts Cooking Class

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, room B31 in the basement of Carroll Gardens’ High School For International Studies at 284 Baltic St, was filled up with a mouth watering smell. Inside, 15 students and their teacher, all dressed in white chef coats, were cutting tomatoes, pealing onions, and mixing ingredients in silver bowls and pans, preparing a wide range of dishes, from rice pudding, to gazpacho soup and tasty empanadas. “I like creating and mixing things, it’s very fun,” smiles Kassandra, 15, who was in the process of baking rice pudding. “It takes out a lot of the stress from school.”

Kassandra and her classmates are part of the school’s brand new culinary arts pilot program. Launched in September, it is designed to give students the opportunity to broaden their personal and professional horizons and connect to a neighborhood that has turned into Brooklyn’s restaurant hot pot over the past 20 years. Backed by Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council member David Yassky, the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation (SBLDC), and the Department of Education, the program %u2013the only one in Brooklyn %u2013 focuses on giving participating students notions of kitchen safety and hygiene, as well as basic cooking, hosting, and serving skills. “After realizing that New York was relying too much on the stock market, people are focusing on working with their hands again,” smiles Bette Stoltz, the President of the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation (SBLDC), which provided guidance and support for the new program.

It is not the school’s first take at Culinary Arts. Two decades ago, the SBLDC, backed by local chefs, launched a Culinary Arts After School program under the supervision of local chefs in the very same room that is now home to the in-school program. The goal then was to keep the kids off the crime riddled local streets. “At 3pm, there would be fights, blood, kids running on top of cars, Stoltz remembers. The kids were menacing.”

The after school program was terminated when talks about the in-school culinary arts class moved forward after 2003 and that the renovation of the classroom started. Within a couple of months, the six kitchenettes facility %u2013 two of which were not working %u2013 was turned into a state of the art restaurant kitchen complete with ovens, griddles, fryers, mixers, soup kettles, and dishwashers.

According to Fred Walsh, the school’s principal since 2004 who also worked as an intern in a Massachusetts hotel at age 17, the new in-school program is a springboard for students who are not college bound. “I was a non-academically inclined student who got through high school thanks to programs like career and technical education, power mechanics, culinary arts, and instrumental music,” he says. “I was good at working with my hands. So I felt that it was important for our school to offer a wide array of opportunities like that.”

At the High School for International Studies, 70% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced price lunches, according to Walsh.

With restaurants burgeoning along Court and Smith Streets, and Atlantic Avenue, the program seemed the perfect fit for the neighborhood. Hopes are that it will benefit from ties with the local restaurateur community to offer Spring internships and launch initiatives involving chefs and restaurant owners such as cooking demonstrations and field trips. “There are a lot of success stories and flops on this block” says Walsh. “It’s important for our kids to hear all of them.”

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