These Kids Can Take the Heat
In Taunton, high school students forge career paths in the kitchen.
The culinary team at Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical High School (BP) makes award winning seafood chowder. Taking second place at the 2015 Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, Rhode Island was all in a day’s work for these busy students.
But these awards aren’t handed to students on a silver platter — that just happens to be the name of their restaurant. These hard-working young folks gain their cooking skills at Silver Platter Restaurant and Café, BP’s student-run restaurant and bakery in Taunton, Massachusetts. During my recent tour of the restaurant, I had lunch with Culinary Arts student, Izsaiah (pronounced Izzie) Amado, and the program’s administrator, Glenn Lopes.
The menu changes each day, and on my visit there were several appetizing options to choose from, including Greek-style shrimp (pan seared crustaceans with marinated tomatoes, black olives, spinach, and feta cheese in a light lemon wine sauce served over pasta), and Portuguese steak (hand cut sirloin steak seared in a spicy Portuguese pepper sauce and topped with a sunny side egg). I chose a crisp fish and chips (lightly breaded haddock fillet deep fried until golden brown, served with hand cut French fries).
I found the food quite good, with portions substantial enough to warrant a take-home container. And you can’t beat the prices; the average entrée is just $7.95. I also brought home the enthusiasm of the students and a positive feeling about the next generation of chefs.
Amado is a senior and has been at BP for all four years. After graduation, she will continue her culinary studies at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. She loves BP and chose it over attending Taunton High School. Always involved with food, she would “mix random stuff” and sometimes get up at night and decide to make a cake. While she enjoys baking, Amado considers herself more of a cook.
“It was a wake-up call from 8th grade,” she says. “Being on your feet all day without stopping.” Now she understands hard work. Amado is poised with a quiet confidence. The young chef-in-training is proud of the personal growth she's achieved since her freshman year. The program has helped her recognize the importance of a good attitude, teamwork, and strong leadership skills.
“Before I was hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Amado says. “The chefs being hard on you makes you know you can do better.” She is driven to excellence and her plates go out perfectly, she says, because that’s her reputation on the line. “My food cannot go out looking less than 100 percent.”
“The older students mentor the younger ones,“ Lopes says. The Silver Platter has two full-time chefs, a part-time chef, and a teacher who collaborate with the students. Students create the menu and learn all aspects of the restaurant business, from front to back of the house tasks. The restaurant is a full-service operation and an integral part of the local Taunton community. They host different functions on the premises, including committee meetings and retirement groups, and also cater events like weddings and banquets.
Lopes emphasizes that all the students at BP want to be there. While it’s a free public school with no tuition, there is an application process and students must be accepted. Students come from seven surrounding communities and about 350 to 360 enter as freshmen each year. Although BP is a vocational school, all students take college-prep classes, too. They offer foreign languages, AP classes, and all the required standardized testing of a regular public school.
“Students work very hard during their academic weeks and these kids do very well,” says Lopes. “They get good jobs after graduation, not minimum wage jobs, and leave with certifications.” Indeed, the website for the Culinary Arts Program states that graduates will be “prepared for national certifications, including ServSafe Food Safety Protection Manager certification, Allergen, TIPS, OSHA and CPR training.”
After learning about the rigorous academic training and hands-on cooking skills that culinary students get while attending BP and working at The Silver Platter, it made me wonder why more students don’t choose vocational high schools. Getting a taste of the real world as high school students gives them a better idea of the work they would like to do as adults, and gives them the skills to start earning better money sooner. The local community benefits as well. The restaurant provides an additional low-cost dining option in Taunton that is also helping the next generation of students put their culinary dreams to work.
Silver Platter Restaurant and Café - Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School, 207 Hart Street, Taunton, 508.823.5151 x176.