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At culinary program started by CAST, students learn under direction of North Fork professionals

North Fork high school students are learning culinary skills from local professionals through a new program launched Jan. 6 by Community Action Southold Town.

The roughly 10-week program invites high school students from the Southold, Greenport and Mattituck districts to improve their culinary skills, said CAST executive director Cathy Demeroto. The competitive program is geared toward juniors and seniors with an interest in the culinary and hospitality industries who do not plan to attend college, Ms. Demeroto said. 

Approximately 15 students meet twice a week at Holy Trinity Church in Greenport. The sessions are led by guest professionals from the area, including Jennilee Morris of Grace and Grit, Stephan Bogardus of The Halyard, Noah Schwartz of Noah’s, Kyle Romeo and Amanda Falcone of Barrow Food House, Rachel Cronemeyer Flatley of The Merchant’s Wife at the Menhaden hotel, Deborah Pittorino of the Greenporter Hotel and George Giannaris of Hellenic Restaurant. 

In addition to basics, like knife skills and food safety and preparation, students will develop skills in interpersonal communication, time management, interviewing and resume writing. 

“It’s more of a workforce development program providing job readiness skills that are required for professional kitchens and restaurants,” Ms. Demeroto said.

Melvin Recinos, owner of Lucia’s in Mattituck, works as the program’s lead chef. Mr. Recinos, who also translates for participants who don’t speak English well, said some of the students came into the program with a lot of experience.

“Some of them have really incredible skills in the kitchen,” Mr. Recinos said. “We have a girl who worked at American Beech [in Greenport] for two years … another one worked at CJ’s [in Mattituck] for a while.”

Melvin Recinos, owner of Lucia Restaurant in Mattituck, teaches students knife skills during Community Action Southold Town’s culinary pilot program. (Courtesy photo)

The culinary program was crafted by Cutchogue resident Regan Batuello, longtime manager at North Fork Table & Inn, who said she’s close friends with most of the participating chefs. Ms. Batuello said she pitched the concept to CAST officials roughly a year ago.

Classes are free for students through a $15,000 Capital One grant CAST obtained in July, Ms. Demeroto said. Organizing the program was a collaborative effort involving Ms. Demeroto, Ms. Batuello and CAST director of education and outreach Monica Schnee.

Ms. Wonderling, who works as a manager at Maple Tree BBQ in Riverhead, serves as a program instructor. She said the program could lead to employment opportunities for students.

“The connections that they make alone in this program — we have so many incredible people volunteering their time, that we’re hoping that at the end of this program that they all eventually wind up with a job,” Ms. Wonderling said. 

Mr. Recinos also believes the program could generate employment opportunities for enrolled students.

“It’s good for them to be involved with the community,” he said. “A lot of places like Greenport, they’re full of restaurants. They often don’t hire enough people because they don’t have enough people. In this case, they learn more about the front of the house, how to make money, in which position they can make more money.”

Toward the end of the program, students will have the chance to take the test for a food manager’s certificate from Suffolk County Department of Health, which is mandated for managers in the food industry. The optional test will be offered free as part of the curriculum.

After the program concludes March 17, students will prepare a banquet for their graduation ceremony and invite community representatives.

David Gamberg, joint superintendent of Southold and Greenport schools, said in a statement that he’s grateful to CAST for the opportunity that it is providing for students.

“This pilot program has the potential to grow and be replicated in other areas to best prepare our students in an authentic setting, gaining invaluable and transferable skills for their future,” Mr. Gamberg said.

If CAST receives enough funding to move into its prospective new location, the culinary program could become permanent, Ms. Demeroto said. 

Correction: The name of Regan Batuello was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.