Get a taste of award-winning students’ cuisine at March 18 gala
Although student chefs prepare the dishes for Coral Gables Senior High School’s annual Gala Night, the food is nothing like cafeteria fare. Menus have included blueberry- and pistachio-crusted goat cheese medallions and cabernet-filet mignon stuffed with roasted garlic.
At this year’s Gala Night, coming up March 18 at the Dome restaurant, the main course will be chicken roulade lined with apples and sausage, served alongside roasted fingerling potatoes and a port wine au jus.
These gourmet meals are prepared by students in the award-winning Culinary Arts Program at Coral Gables High.
The program is part of the academies division of the curriculum; an academy is similar to a major in college and dictates what courses the students take. In recent years the program, headed by teacher-chef Mercy Vera with colleague Angel Vazquez, has become one of the elite programs of Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Students in this powerhouse program have won both district and state titles in the Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) competition in Orlando. In 2010, Gables High was the runner-up for the national title in the FCCLA competition.
“I want the students to gain as much experience as possible so they are prepared to enter the culinary arts industry,” said Ms. Vera, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and a former chef at O’Casey’s Restaurant and JohnMartin’s Pub & Irish Restaurant.
When students graduate, they are ready to take the ProStart Program test administered by the National Restaurant Association, which sets the standards for working in the culinary arts. To take the test, students must have 400 hours of work — 200 hours in the culinary industry and 200 hours in community service.
Throughout the year, students earn their hours by catering events in schools and the community. Because of their partnerships with the program, Doctor’s Hospital and the Biltmore Hotel sometimes enlist the students to cater events.
Students also get hands-on experience by cooking in small competitions throughout the year. For example, each year at Doctor’s Hospital, six chefs compete to create a healthful meal using a basket of mystery ingredients – “like a mini Iron Chef,” says Ms. Vera, referring to the popular Food Network show.
The chefs are split in three groups of two and must cook two Italian, Mediterranean or international dishes, depending on the basket they receive. The food is then judged by representatives of Coral Gables High and the hospital.
Students learn from successful chefs such as the chef for the Miami Heat and chef Diego Martinez, sous chef at the Biltmore Hotel’s Palme d’Or restaurant and owner of a catering company, Sub-Zero Delights. The chefs prepare meals in front of the class as students prepare the same meal while watching them, Ms. Vera explained.
The Gala Night event was launched in 2011 to raise money for the program so the students can continue to compete; the entire menu for Gala Night is prepared by students.
Baptist Health South Florida and the Dome, 271 Miracle Mile, are this year’s sponsors.
Tickets are $65 (cash, money order or cashier’s check only); to purchase, contact Ms. Vera via [email protected] or 305-443-4871, ext. 2364.
Rob Patrignani is a senior at the University of Miami studying music business and public relations