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CAST’s youth culinary program returns Jan. 4

The Center for Advocacy, Support and Transformation’s North Fork Culinary Youth Program is back for its third year, starting Jan. 4.

There are various new aspects to the program this year. CAST education and outreach coordinator Erica Stiendl said they expanded the program to add a more intensive adult session.

The program will be held at CAST’s new home in Southold, which has a professional teaching kitchen.

The 12-week program brings together 12 students from Southold, Greenport and Mattituck school districts twice a week to learn culinary skills and much more. This year they will be meeting on Mondays and Tuesdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. 

It’s set up to be a workforce development program according to CAST director Cathy Demeroto.

“We focus on just general job preparation,” Ms. Demeroto said. “We practice interview skills, how to apply for a job, resume writing and things of that nature.” 

The goal is to have students in the program ready to work in local restaurants once the busy season starts in the spring, Ms. Demeroto said.

The program is funded through generous grants from Capital One and North Fork Side by Side.

Participants take field trips to local restaurants; they can also take advantage of mentorships with local chefs. CAST also pays for the opportunity for participants to take the Suffolk County Food Manager’s Course and Exam, allowing participants to get a food managers certificate from the Suffolk County Department of Health. All Suffolk County food establishments are required to have a current certified individual on premises during all hours of operation according to Ms. Stiendl.

Students really enjoy participating in the program, according to Mattituck High School principal Dave Smith.

“I know the students absolutely love it,” he said. “It really is popular.”

Ms. Stiendl said they are currently wrapping up interviews with students from the three local districts and will determine acceptance shortly.

Many local restaurants are also jumping at the opportunity to participate in the program.

“We have a lot of amazingly generous restaurants and chefs that are volunteering their time this year, and the list gets bigger every year of the restaurants and chefs that are interested in participating,” Ms. Stiendl said.

There are at least 12 different local chefs and restaurants participating this year, including chef Stephan Bogardus from The Halyard Restaurant in Greenport; Keith & Nancy Kouris, owners of Blue Duck Bakery in Southold; chef George Giannaris owner of Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion, and others.

Melvin Recinos of Lucia Restaurant of Mattituck and Middle Island has been participating for three years, since the program began. Mr. Recinos is the lead instructor and he helps the programs director, Tess Wonderling, develop and oversee the curriculum, determine the coursework and approve the schedule to include all the local chefs and restaurants that are participating.

The program is also bilingual, and Mr. Recinos works with the Spanish-speaking youth that participate in the program, which means a lot to him.

“For me it’s about giving back some of the knowledge I’ve gained from working in our local restaurants and as an immigrant I like it because I can give something to the youth that’s good and useful for them here where they have decided to live,” Mr. Recinos said in Spanish.

Ms. Demeroto said she is grateful to the community for making this possible each year.

“We couldn’t do this program without the generosity of the community and particularly the local restaurants and chefs and the wonderful collaboration with the schools,” she said. “So it’s really a joint effort that benefits so many in the community.”