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Marysville students learn culinary arts, work skills at the School House Cafe | SLIDESHOW
MARYSVILLE — The dishes are freshly prepared, the prices are low and the staff at this restaurant loves clocking in for their shifts.
They love what they do so much, in fact, that they don’t even get paid. The meals cost so little because they’re only covering the overhead of buying the food.
But then, the students who work at the School House Cafe on the Totem Middle School campus find their jobs rewarding in other ways.
“I want to be a chef when I grow up,” said Jordan Anderson, a senior at the School for the Entrepreneur, on the Marysville Getchell High School campus, who’s been honing his craft at the School House Cafe for the past three years. “It’s an art form. There’s so much you can do with it.”
Fellow SFE senior Josh Ferguson has only been working in the School House Cafe for the past year, the same amount of time he’s been working at the Golden Corral restaurant in town, but he shares Anderson’s enthusiasm for cooking wholeheartedly. As the two donned their white chefs’ coats in the kitchen for the School House Cafe’s first day of serving customers in the New Year, on Thursday, Jan. 5, former Seattle chef Jeff Delma was there to guide them, as he’s been doing for the restaurant’s student staff for the past five years.
“Each class gets better by the end of the semester, which is the end of this month for us,” Delma said. “Our class sizes stay pretty consistent, more or less, but we’re a lot busier than we were this time last year. I honestly don’t know why we have so many more customers now.”
The roughly 50 students in both of Delma’s classes are divided up into morning food preparation and midday restaurant operation shifts, and while Delma might not know for sure why they seem to have drawn larger crowds over the past year, he noted that regular patrons have favorite orders.
“Everybody loves our rolls,” Delma said. “We make them fresh from scratch every day. The fish and chips are always popular, but a new menu item this year is the spicy lobster sandwich, which has sold like crazy. It’s been a big hit.”
“You can just taste the difference in food that’s made from scratch versus food that’s been pre-made,” Anderson said. “It’s like the difference between food that’s been homemade and food that comes frozen.”
“I like the taste of fresh food rather than fast food,” Ferguson said.
Delma laughed as he acknowledged that taste-testing the food is one of his students’ favorite activities in the restaurant’s kitchen, but he encourages them to sample their own wares, to make sure they’re serving meals that they’d want to eat themselves. Besides, it helps them get through the occasional drudgery of the rest of their chores, since, as Delma soon impresses upon his students, “They’ll clean 10 times more than they cook,” even with a rotating selection of specials on the menu.
“It’s fun working with these kids,” Delma said, before chuckling, “They can drive you crazy sometimes, but their enthusiasm for it makes it nice.”
While Delma has had students from the School House Cafe go on to pursue the culinary arts after graduation, he’s less concerned with turning them into expert chefs than he is with teaching them a simple, diligent work ethic that they can apply to any career field as adults.
“A lot of them have never held a job before this, so it provides them with a simulated work experience,” Delma said. “I hope they’re learning a sense of responsibility, an ability to stay on task and a commitment to following through.”
“You have to develop patience and good communication skills to do this,” Ferguson said.
“You need dedication, persistence and practice to succeed, like with anything else,” Anderson said. “A lot of kids think this class will be easy, but it’s really easy to fail it if you think that way.”
Although the Marysville School District’s frequent early-release days on Wednesdays have caused the School House Cafe to open more infrequently on Wednesdays, it still serves customers from 12:15-1:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Delma invited the community to check out what his young chefs are cooking up.
“The more customers we get, the more work experience our students get,” Delma said. “With everyone’s budgets being so tight, I’d hate to see this program go away.”
“If you have a chance, take this class,” Anderson told his peers. “Expect it to be as hard as a regular job, because if you slack off, it’ll show. We’ve got something really unique here. You’ll get top-quality food for your buck, at least when I’m cooking, and even when we do get the occasional bad review, it only helps make us better chefs.”