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School House Café
MARYSVILLE The specials change on a regular basis, but last week they included grilled pork chops, teriyaki salmon and Jerusalem artichoke and fennel gratin.
For the uninitiated, gratin is a type of French casserole covered with sauce and either breadcrumbs or cheese and often served in its baking dish.
By the way, the uninitiated referred to above would not include the students who run the School House Café housed in Totem Middle School.
Overseen by Chef Jeff Delma, the program attracts some 32 students, mostly from Marysville-Pilchuck High School. In existence for 17 years, besides providing local residents with a good lunch, the café provides Marysville students with hands-on, practical experience in the culinary or restaurant field, said Carol Davis, head of career and technical education for the Marysville schools.
"It's a great way to get kids jobs skills while still in school," Davis said.
According to both Davis and Delma, in terms of café operations, students do everything that needs doing. They prepare the food. They cook the food. They serve the food. They clean.
"We make good food for reasonable prices," said Marysville-Pilchuck senior Kevin Anglin, who has spent a couple of years in the program. As he talks, he expresses no doubt about what he wants to do with his future.
"I like to cook, I want to go cooking school," Kevin said.
"It's really a lot of fun," added Marysville-Pilchuck sophomore Christina Stretch. This is her first year in the program, which she joined because predictably she likes to cook and bake.
"I'm constantly learning something new," Christina added. "I really like plating the food, making it look nice."
Described as a regular patron by students and staff, Marysville resident Yvonne Lervick definitely agreed with Kevin about the café producing good food at a good price. She is especially fond of the ,café's soups.
"The deserts are also wonderful," Lervick said.
Delma arrived at the district at the beginning of the current school year, taking over the café program from longtime teacher Cindy Flagg. Flagg was in the café's kitchen for 15 years.
"She had quite a following here," said para-professional Kerry Beck, another program veteran who's been with the district for close to two decades. She credited Flagg with making the café program what it is, but added Delma is taking it in a different direction.
"What I'm teaching is methodology," said Delma, who received his culinary training from the Art Institute of Seattle after spending much of his adult life in the computer field.
The idea behind teaching methodology is, he added, to give students a basic grounding in the cooking arts, hopefully giving them the ability to approach any recipe and know what to do with it. According to Delma, he wants to stress the interrelationships between ingredients and the cooking process.
"There is a use for everything we make," he said. Delma also emphasized that students make everything.
"The first thing I did when I got here was get rid of the microwaves," he said. "There is no reheating. We make everything from scratch. We make our own stock, we bake our own bread everyday."
One more requirement placed on students is that they must taste everything coming out of the café's kitchen.
"You have to do that," Delma said. "It's a frame of reference."
If Kevin or any of the students currently in the program become culinary professionals, they will be following in the footsteps of others. Beck talks about a number of students who are now professional chefs, including one who works at Seattle's ritzy Canlis restaurant on Lake Union.
According to Beck, the number of customers visiting the café can very greatly from day-to-day. Delma regularly sets up luncheons for as many 50 or more to give students the experience of dealing with large numbers of patrons.
Currently open mostly to Marysville-Pilchuck students, the program will be available to all district students in grades 10 to 12 next year. Split into two classes, participants can earn college-level credits from Lake Washington Technical College. They spend the days when the café is closed training and studying. Davis seemed especially excited about a new textbook the district may adopt for the program, a thick, heavy tome put out by a culinary school.
"It's a great class for kids who want to see if they might like this sort of thing," Beck said. "It's a great class for kids who like to move around instead of sitting in a classroom."