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Future foodies: Aspiring chefs get real world view

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February 14, 2011 |

A group of Davis High School students interested in culinary careers got a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant life last week, something the counselor who arranged the visit hopes will help them as they plan their futures.

“We focus so much on college,” said counselor Courtenay Tessler, “and it’s so important for these kids to see the other options out there, too.”

The students who visited the restaurant Ella in downtown Sacramento have all dreamed of careers as chefs, some for as long as they can remember.

So when Ella’s executive chef Kelly McCown invited Tessler to bring some students for a tour, she quickly found seven eager juniors and seniors.

Several, like Erika Lamontagne and her friend Samantha Mustard, hope to become pastry chefs.

“I don’t want to own a huge place,” Lamontagne said while looking around the spacious Ella, located at 12th and K streets. “I want to open up a little pastry shop.”

For her part, Mustard likes making cakes.

“I do a lot of cakes,” she said. “I like all of it, baking them, doing different fillings, designing them.”

Said Lamontagne: “She makes really good fillings for cakes.”

The two girls, along with classmate Jackie Rodriguez, spent time last week in Ella’s kitchen working with pastry chef Rachel Kelly.

Mustard prepared scoops of chocolate for truffles, while Lamontagne and Rodriguez prepared huckleberries for a sauce. They quizzed the smoothly efficient Kelly about her job while they worked.

Kelly, who attended a culinary school in San Francisco, told them she’s been a pastry chef for three years and was a line cook before that.

“I swore I would never do pastries,” she told her three helpers. “But if you want to be a good chef, you have to get over your fears.”

You also have to work hard, noted sous chef Ravin Patel, who guided the students through a tour of the restaurant before demonstrating salmon preparations for four of them.

“It looks glamorous on TV,” he said of being a chef. “And it is glamorous, but I was here for 14 hours yesterday and I’ll be here 15 hours today. It’s a lot of work.”

Patel graduated from UC Davis and went to work as a stockbroker before deciding to pursue a career as a chef instead. He attended culinary school in New York City and eventually made his way back to Sacramento.

He talked at length with the Davis students about what makes a successful restaurant, and the skills needed to make it happen.

“It seems like so much work if I want to do this,” Lamontagne noted.

But none of the students felt any less determined.

“I want to be a cook,” said senior Blake Figueroa, “but I also want to own a place.”

His plans for making that happen get underway next year when he’ll be taking culinary classes at American River College.

Classmate Zachari White has a different goal: “I wouldn’t want to be a manager or own a place. I want to be a chef.”

He plans to take classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Sacramento next year.

Meanwhile Christine Keleman will jump right into the business when she heads to Newport Beach after graduation. A family friend has a job waiting for her in a hotel restaurant, probably as a dishwasher, and she’ll work her way up. Eventually, she’d like to open a Vietnamese restaurant.

For her part, Tessler was glad to give students a peek into what their futures could hold, as well as the reminders of the importance of hard work and just how much they’ll need what they’re learning now in high school – particularly math, which they watched Patel using repeatedly to calculate everything from measurements in a recipe to how much salmon to order from Scotland.

“All the skills are so important,” Tessler noted.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at (530) 747-8051 or aternus@davisenterprise.net. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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