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When Wilson Education Partnership hosted its Boots & Bow Ties fundraiser for Wilson County Schools on Thursday night, executive director Robin Williams knew she could depend on students in the culinary programs at Fike and Beddingfield high schools to come through with high quality eats.
For the hot portions of the meal, Williams called on Ebony Lineberger, culinary arts and hospitality instructor at Beddingfield, where students prepared three different types of wraps, pizza dip, bacon cheeseburger sliders, buffalo cheese dip and veggie trays with different types of dips.
For the desserts, Williams reached out to Christa Mercer, foods and nutrition teacher at Fike, where students made decorative cupcakes and chocolate-covered strawberries and pretzels.
Lineberger said it is a great real-world opportunity for her students
“They do everything. They do all of the planning, all of the menu prepping, the grocery list,” Lineberger said. “They know exactly how long it is going to take to do things. The things that are going to take the longest, they do those first, so they are great with it. I am just here to facilitate. They do all of the work.”
“We were super excited because it gives them an opportunity to showcase what they can do,” Mercer said.
Most of the students are junior and seniors, but there are a few sophomores.
“Tonight we are preparing for 175 people. That’s a lot of food, but the more the merrier for these students,” Lineberger said on Thursday. “They love it. They enjoy doing big functions. The largest they have done is a crowd of 500. They have been with me so long that I don’t have to tell them what to do. They just automatically do it.
“We did a trial run on Friday with these three different kind of gourmet cupcakes and they did an excellent job,” Mercer said. “They were beautiful and they loved the taste of them. They had super ideas about how we could make it fancy, what we could do to make the tops of them prettier because this is a fancy event, and we have never prepared anything quite that extensive before.
“I have great participation,” Mercer said. “Different kids in each class are really interested in it, and I have kind of let them go with it just because it’s not everybody’s forte.”
Nakahyla Speight, a Beddingfield senior, plans to go to culinary school after high school.
She likes the creativity and the time management part of food preparation.
“I kind of work well under pressure,” Nakahyla said. “I am preparing a veggie tray, and next I will be preparing a fruit tray. I’m trying to make it as creative as I can.”
Nakahyla already works at Barton College at Aramark, and she is used to doing catering jobs for 300 to 500 people.
“This is kind of small compared to what we usually do,” Nakahyla said.
Edronie Vick, a senior at Beddingfield, spent much of Thursday assembling wraps.
“Whenever I graduate high school, I want to go to culinary school, and then I want to be an executive chef. I want to own my own restaurant.”
The culinary coursework at Beddingfield has prepared her to take the next steps toward her goals.
“I have learned more about being precise, making sure that you have more than enough of everything rather than not enough,” Edronie said. “I have also learned that cooking is just expressing your creativity in your own way. Everybody seasons their food in a different way. That’s the way you express yourself. You can always change a recipe or change the way you feel about a recipe or do something different from the last time you made a dish. You can always go back and alter and change your mind if you want to. You can always be creative when you cook. There is nothing more important than seeing somebody smile from something that you created.”
The students have all obtained their ServSafe certifications that teach them how to be the best and safest food handler.
Taking on projects like the WEP Boots & Bow Ties catering job is a good example of the expectations in a real catering business.
“In the real world, we have to do things on time and have a deadline, and do it well,” Mercer said. “That’s why we did a trial run to make sure they all turned out the way we expected. We had teachers test taste and we adjusted accordingly. It also gives them a good broader vision of how the culinary world could open up to them.”
Lineberger said the schools get catering requests every week.
“Sometimes two a week,” Lineberger said.
“People appreciate good quality food. They know that the kids are certified, and they know what they are doing.”
Clients can get anything they want including light foods of heavy dinners.
“If it’s something that the kids have never done, they research it,” Lineberger said. “They find the recipes and combine them and find the best one that they want to use. They do a great job. I could never ask for a better group of kids. Everybody can’t be a basketball player. Everybody can’t be a musician. Everybody’s not into singing. Some kids just love to cook, and they can get in here and let all of their creative juices flow.”