Senior culinary arts students at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center recently faced their harshest food critic yet. No, not Gordon Ramsey — worse — the American Heart Association. Their challenge was to prepare three different luncheon menus and serve them all at a special tasting event. Not only did they have to impress with flavor, technique, presentation, creativity, and service, each dish had to be heart healthy.
About 40 so-called food critics, including me, attended the tasting event, which took place in the school’s dining room. The students were divided into three teams. After sampling all the food, we had to vote for one team. The winning recipes will be served at the heart association’s annual Go Red for Women Luncheon.
“Involving the culinary arts students is a great opportunity for these young people who will be going into the food service industry to learn about heart healthy cooking,” says fellow taster Lynn Goldfarb. Lynn became a heart association volunteer in 2006, after having a significant heart attack. Since, she has helped raise money and awareness about women and heart disease any way she can, including sampling a few tasty recipes with a roomful of friends. “I personally enjoy the tasting and the recipes the students develop.”
Chef Charles Limoggio says when the heart association asked him if his students could participate in the tasting challenge, he jumped at the opportunity. “It’s a great test for them,” he told me. “They have to research and choose the recipes. Then they have to execute and present them. They also learn the dynamics of working in a group and how to work fast.”
“It’s definitely a lot of hard work,” admits Mike Ross-Sullivan, a member of team one. “When it comes to show time, you want to be prepared. We learned how to take out ingredients and replace them.” Mike’s group served Jamaican Barbequed Pork Tenderloin. To make it heart healthy, they trimmed the fat and instead of frying it, they grilled the meat.
Their menu also included Vegetable Kebabs, Citrus Salad Topped with Berry Frozen Yogurt and Honey and Spice Pears.
Everything the team prepared got taster Kate Leahy’s attention and her vote. “I really liked the seasoning on the pork, the salad was inspiring, the kebabs were cooked to perfection and the pear was not too sweet — it was just right!”
Alison Nason voted for team two, which made Spicy Haddock, Cilantro Lime Quinoa with Pico de Gallo, Lemon Grilled Asparagus, and Fire in the Belly Soup. But she included this suggestion on her ballot: “I would add either the Citrus Salad from group one or the Mango Tango Salad from group three and for dessert I’d have the Honey and Spice Pears.”
One of my favorite items was the soup, which lived up to its name — Fire in the Belly. It packed a wallop because it contained chipotles.
Team member Ang Errington says one of the many hearty healthy tricks she learned preparing this menu was to use olive oil on the asparagus instead of melted butter.
Team three member, Kyle Gallant, was all smiles as he served Penne with Vodka Sauce and Capicola. It wasn’t only that he loves pasta so much, but also because he just got accepted into Lincoln Culinary Institute. “I was really happy when I found out,” he grins. “I was like, YES! My passion is that I love to cook!”
Along with the pasta, Kyle’s team also prepared Lemon Rice with Golden Raisins and Almonds, Sauteed Zucchini, and Mango Tango Salad with Cranberry Orange Glaze.
We all had a great time tasting for a good cause —you couldn’t ask for better food or company. “It was a nice escape from the January doldrums,” adds Lynn Weisz. “Like a local Top Chef!”
If you want to find out which dishes made the final cut, you’ll just have to attend the Go Red for Women Luncheon and Educational Forum. It’s not until March 6, so you still have time to register. It’s being held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay and begins at 10 am with a silent auction and healthy heart screenings. Some educational sessions will follow and the luncheon will be served at noon. The hotel will cook the winning recipes, but all the students will be there as special guests. This time all they have to do is enjoy the meal and keep their ears open so they can learn even more about preventing heart disease.