By Dedra Cordle
Every student harbors a deep suspicion that their teachers delight in giving orders, and in the case of Barry Alcock that is certainly true.
As an English teacher at the South-Western Career Academy, Alcock likes to single out the students he knows are in the Culinary Arts program and grill them about the items that will be on the menu at the Jazz Street Café.
Upon hearing the dishes that will be featured, he gives them his food order despite the fact that the school day has just started and the restaurant still has hours to go before it officially opens for business. Alcock does not repent for his early morning demands.
When the bell that signifies it is finally his time to eat lunch rings, he hustles down the hall – possibly shouldering some fellow educators who are also eager to eat at the restaurant out of his way – opens the doors to the cozy dining area, finds a good seat and waits for his food to arrive. After it is placed before him, he tucks in and marvels at the talent the students in the Culinary Arts program have.
“The food is just terrific,” he said. “I consider myself lucky because I get to eat here twice a week.”
His lunch mates, English teacher Lisa Moorefield and social studies teacher Dan Chernick, whole-heartedly agreed with that sentiment.
Due to their proximity to the Jazz Street Café, most of the restaurant’s patrons are staff members at the South-Western Career Academy but it is not exclusively for their use, much to their good-food-loving displeasure. This hidden gem is also available to all in the community.
“We want people to know that we are here and that we are open for business,” said Chef Sharon Pallas, the academy’s culinary arts instructor. “We want everyone in the community to come in and experience the quality of food these students have prepared.”
She said she knows some people may be hesitant to try meals that have been prepared by teenagers, but she is confident that there is nothing to fear.
“Everything is supervised,” Pallas said with a laugh.
She added that all of her students have certification and are fully equipped to handle and prepare food safely.
“Most everyone – once they have found us, that is – who tries the food here comes back.”
If some are worried about experience, most of the teens have been working in the kitchen since they were toddlers. Karla Hernandez began at age 6; Anna Follrod, who will be competing in a culinary competition at the state level later this month, began at 8; Jordan Evans began when she was allowed to go into the kitchen and Hannah Yake started helping her grandmother make pies when she was 3.
A majority of the students in the program (19 seniors and 17 juniors) have been cooking or baking for most of their lives and most want to make a career out of it. They are confident in their abilities, though they admit they do not stray far from the recipe yet, and want to share their passion for cooking and baking with the community.
Even though the school year – and the Jazz Street Café along with it as it only operated during certain days and hours of the school year – will be coming to a close soon, there is still time for the community to check it out. Their regular restaurant days are Thursday and Friday (hours of operation are from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and an appetizer themed buffet will be taking place on April 25. The students are especially excited for the Fair Food Buffet on May 2, which will feature foods like deep fried Oreos, corn dogs and chilidogs.
“They don’t have the menu all together yet, but they’re really looking forward to it,” said Pallas.
They hope the community will be there to share in their excitement and culinary skills.