MARYSVILLE — Even before they start serving up meals, the student chefs at the School House Cafe on the Totem Middle School campus are already hard at work.
On Thursday, Jan. 3, roughly 40 students from Marysville-Pilchuck High School and the Small Learning Communities of Marysville Getchell High School are cleaning out the kitchen after their winter break and preparing various dishes for the following week and beyond.
Wendy Hodgins, a paraprofessional with the Marysville School District, has helped the students in the public serving area and behind the scenes of the largely student-run restaurant, whose customer base averages about three to four tables of four to six diners each during the three days each week that it’s open for business.
“Around Valentine’s Day last year, we actually had to turn people away,” Hodgins said. “I’ve heard the chefs say it gets slow during the holidays, but it’s seemed pretty busy to me. It does pick up as the weather gets warmer, though.”
In the past year that she’s assisted the program, Hodgins echoed the praise of Chef Jeff Delma for the students’ efforts and skills.
“They walk in not knowing how to do anything and get to be able to run things on their own,” Hodgins said. “Many of them come in not realizing how difficult it will be, but they thrive under the pressure. Some of these students are ones we could possibly lose otherwise, and we’re giving them an outlet, and they’re working their fannies off.”
Like most of this year’s students, Rebecca Ireland and Lyudmila Tishkova started the program this school year, but they came into the School House Cafe with some experience from their kitchens at home.
“I never had to make dinner because I always made dessert,” said Ireland, a junior in the School for the Entrepreneur, as she joined Tishkova in making a flour-less chocolate cake. “I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to cook or serve people their food, but either way, I wanted to help people.”
Unlike her best friend Ireland, fellow SFE junior Hailey Nicholson was a total novice in the kitchen before choosing the School House Cafe as an elective this school year, but she’s appreciated learning how to bake various cakes and pastries, even if she doesn’t share Ireland’s interest in pursuing the culinary arts after high school.
“I’ll still take this again next year, because it’s fun,” Nicholson said. “If you choose to do this, though, you can’t goof off. If you have a job to do, Chef Delma expects you to come in and get it done.”
While Delma acknowledged that the two classes of students at the School House Cafe this school year are relatively inexperienced compared to their predecessors, whose numbers included more second- and third-year students, he nonetheless praised their commitment to the craft and their lessons.
“It’s definitely easier when you have kids who have been here before, but this class has a lot of good kids,” Delma said. “They’re self-motivated self-starters, which leads to a good workplace.”
As always, Delma reported that the fish-and-chips and freshly baked rolls are among the School House Cafe’s most popular menu selections, along with the spicy lobster sandwich. As he looked back on his time with the program, he reflected on what’s kept him in.
“When I first decided to do this, I said to myself, if you don’t like it, you can go back to being a commercial chef after one year,” Delma said. “Six years later, I’m still here, because I like interacting with these kids.”
The School House Cafe is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 12:15-1:30 p.m. at 1605 Seventh St. in Marysville. To make a reservation, call 360-653-0639. For more information, log onto www.msdcte.org/whatsonthemenu.html.