Culinary Culmination

Be our guest! Culinary students share cuisine from around the world for year-end project

The parsley garnish was on the plates and the cannelloni only had minutes left to bake, leaving Dominic Lotto, a junior at West Lake High School, time to pace through the kitchen.

He was a bit nervous. His dish was minutes away from being served to his classmates as part of a special weeks-long project involving selecting a dish, preparing and serving it, all while researching its history. The information would then be shared in a brief oral presentation during the meal. He would be graded on the food he prepared, the presentation and a written essay.

In the end his worry was not necessary.

“This is delicious,” announced a classmate before diving in for another bite.

Dominic made his presentation in the culinary kitchen. The class paused the work they were doing to listen to his discussion of the dish and to enjoy it before going back to their classwork.

For the past four years, students in the Culinary Arts program have participated in an end-of-year assignment in which they have two weeks to research and prepare a dish to share, said teacher Chef John Damiani.

“It’s a culmination of two semesters where students put everything together,” he said.

Students are encouraged to select a dish representing their heritage or culture, or to find a personal favorite.

“I think it’s important and offers other students an opportunity to experience different kinds of cuisines they might not get exposed to,” Chef Damiani said.

Many students select a recipe their grandmother made for them or one that has become a traditional dish served during the holidays with their families.

“It shows how food brings people together,” the chef said.

Dominic selected cannelloni, a traditional Italian dish, similar to what Americans think of as manicotti. Although it did not reflect his personal heritage, when he saw the recipe, he thought it would be something he would enjoy and decided on it for his project. He added his own twist: instead of the using tubular pasta the recipe called for, he opted to use crêpes.

Cooking is something Dominic loves to do, and he often practices at home.

“It really caught my eye,” Dominic told classmates as they enjoyed cannelloni. He added that the dish can be traced back to Italy in 1770.

“The filling is ground pork and ground beef and is served with a tomato and béchamel sauce,” he said.

After enjoying a serving of Dominic’s dish, Pleasantville High School junior Guilder Cruz returned to his prep station, where he chopped vegetables for his presentation the next day.

Guilder was getting ready to make Guatemalan enchiladas, a common street food served in his native country.

“Basically, it’s vegetables and meat over a tortilla,” he said, adding that it is also a platform for a variety of colors — green lettuce, purple cabbage, red tomatoes and white cheese.

“You can find it everywhere in Guatemala,” he said.

Chef Damiani said 26 students will complete the project this year. For him, the joy comes from enjoying the variety of fare the students make. The challenging part is ordering the unique ingredients some of the recipes call for that are not typically part of the kitchen inventory.

“It all comes together with the cooking techniques and fundamentals they’ve learned all year,” he said.