What could make a handful of 10 year-olds forego recess for another favorite activity? According to Chef Paul Worley, it’s cooking. “This one threw me, actually, so I had to ask their teachers if it was OK to let them stay in the kitchen to work,” says Worley. “The teachers said it was, and so I let them.”
It’s part of the Lower School mentoring program at Colorado Academy, where every year, counselor Kate O’Donnell pairs students with faculty mentors in order to give them the opportunity to give back to the Lower School community.
Through mentorship programs on campus like working with the Operations Staff to clean up the grounds or with the Technology Department to help with iPads, students learn responsibility and time management. New this year is the chef mentoring program, headed by Worley and Chef Alex Porter. So far, students are eating it up.
“It has been so much fun,” says fifth grader Dara Odugbesan, who adds that he wants to be a chef and start his own restaurant when he grows up. So far, Dara has learned how to plate food and work the grill. He adds with emphatic enthusiasm that he hopes to soon learn how to make the marshmallow cereal bars.
With more than 50 years of combined experience in hotels and restaurants from Canada to California, as well as degrees from The Culinary Institute of Canada and The Culinary Institute of America, the Dining Hall duo at CA has much to teach. Worley has worked as a chef in one of Denver’s most recognized Japanese restaurants, Sushi Den, and Porter was the 2006 Chef of the Year for Renaissance Hotels and Resorts International. In addition to teaching the students culinary skills, the chefs hope students will also learn how much planning and preparation goes into feeding more than 1,000 people a day.
To help achieve that goal, every E day, Dara comes into the kitchen with four of his peers. He goes to his assigned locker, hangs up his belongings and dons a chef’s cap. From there, he begins his assigned tasks, which vary from “traying cookies,” to restocking the salad bar, helping to sort silverware, or working on the grill. Every six-day rotation, the students work in the CA kitchen for about an hour.
“I hope they will feel like they are giving back to CA,” says O’Donnell, “and that they appreciate the hard work of the chefs and food staff and cultivate an interest in nutrition, sustainability, food safety and trying new things.”
Between bites of a yogurt-covered pretzel, Dara says he’s definitely trying new things. He adds that he didn’t realize how much work goes into feeding the CA community. “Or how much fun it is.”