MARQUETTE - Students from high schools across Marquette County played host Wednesday evening to a hungry crowd gathered inside Northern Michigan University's Jacobetti Complex.
The group was gathered to see what students participating in NMU's high school culinary program had learned over the past school year.
Tyler Wallace, a senior from Marquette Senior High School, was busy chopping bell peppers as fellow students Nick Olli and Lynden Wickenheisen prepped other vegetables.
Northern Michigan University adjunct instructor Andrew Sear helps out some of his students as they prepare a year-end showcase dinner, showing off some of the skills they've learned through NMU's high school culinary program. (Journal photos by Jackie Stark)
Marquette Senior High School senior Tyler Wallace chops a bell pepper. Wallace is one of the first students to go through Northern's high school culinary program for a second year. (Journal photos by Jackie Stark)
Other students prepared a mouth-watering okra, zucchini and tomato ratatouille while some handled place settings in the Jacobetti Complex commons area.
The students were saying thanks to the people who have helped support them throughout the year as they take part in an unusual cooking program offered by NMU.
For two hours each school day, the students are slicing and dicing their way around the kitchen, learning the ins and outs of food preparation from Northern hospitality management professor Chris Kibit and adjunct instructor Andrew Sear.
"I love collaborations, and this is a great collaboration with the schools," Kibit said.
Wallace, who is one of a handful of students to participate in the program for a second year, said he likes being in the kitchen and is looking to continue culinary studies in his post-secondary education.
He said being in the program for a second year has been fun, as he watches other first-year students struggle through the same things he did.
"It's interesting," Wallace said. "Everyone's improved drastically over the year, it's been a pretty cool experience."
Kibit said the program, which is facilitated in part by the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency, is a way for younger students to learn their way around the kitchen and not be intimidated at the thought of cooking dinner at home.
"I'm all about, personally, having kids appreciate food," Kibit said. "I've got three teenagers. They know how to cook. ... They'll eat salmon and asparagus, and they'll also eat boxed stuff, macaroni and cheese."
The students found a good enough chemistry to earn them first place in this year's Michigan Junior Chef competition, in which high school students submit healthy school lunch recipes that feature local, seasonal foods. Eight recipes are then chosen and teams whose recipes were selected compete in a cook-off at Michigan State University.
Students in NMU's program won with a sweet potato burrito recipe.
To help say thanks to their supporters, the students made a special dinner, serving up stuffed artichokes with bacon-mustard vinaigrette, slow-cooked Guinness prime rib and mascarpone and chocolate trifle, just to name a few dishes.
"This was a way to invite in anyone that had anything to do with them over the year - the families, NMU people, community people, administrators - it's just a way to say 'Hey, look what we learned,' " Kibit said.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is email@example.com