Debbie Silveira isn’t your average culinary arts instructor. She is one of the hardest working and committed teachers I have known. Debbie is a culinary arts instructor and co-chair of the family & consumer sciences department at Belle Gardens High School in Montebello California just east of down town LA. For the past five years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Debbie and a team of talented chefs and administrators as a volunteer advisor to the district. In a community where things aren’t always easy and a state where funding for public education is in crisis, Debbie hasn’t faltered in her commitment to students. After meeting her students, I can see why. They are all heart and are deserving of the best support we can give. They come from hardworking families, often have limited resources, and clearly make the connection between education and a better life. Perhaps this is why Debbie convinced chef Jeff Mora, Corporate Chef and Owner of Metropolitan Culinary Services to jump in and help her prepare the Belle Gardens culinary team for the 2010 state ProStart competition in Sacramento (March 6-7). The stakes for Debbie’s students are high; ProStart winners receive lucrative scholarships making the pathway to college all that more feasible. Be advised, her students are up to the task.
Since December the team has been working after school, on weekends and during winter break to perfect their skills in preparation for the big event. Following ProStart guidelines, they composed a three course menu choosing an Asian inspired theme.
During one of their recent practice sessions Hawaiian Chef Sam Choy turned up with Jeff Mora to provide the team with some advice and inspiration. Sam Choy is a restaurateur, television personality and talented chef who most recently created all the first class and business class menus for American Airlines flights between Tokyo and Honolulu. I first met Sam in New Orleans last September at K-Paul’s Louisiana kitchen. My first impression was one of great admiration not only for his professional background but also for his wonderful personality and great heart. Sam is the kind of guy who radiates positive energy. When he enters a room, he makes it better. When he cooks, there’s nothing better. Jeff texted me the day Sam was on his way to Belle Gardens. His note brought a smile to my face and didn’t surprise me at all, that’s the kind of guy Sam is. Convincing Sam to visit Belle Gardens is just the kind of thing Jeff would do for Debbie and her students. Plus, who could provide better guidance on an Asian inspired menu than Sam Choy. I love the level of authenticity to all this. Debbie, Jeff and Sam work with these students because it’s the right thing to do. They do this work under the radar with no expectation of anything in return other than the success of the students. These kids are going to succeed regardless of how they do at the ProStart competition in Sacramento because they have a whole community pulling for them while they work their butts off and pull for themselves. I can’t wait to see what happens in Sacramento.