Tag Archives: Alison Milwe Grace

Staples Culinary Grads Cook Up A Storm

Staples graduates achieve great success in a dazzling variety of fields: Music. Theater. Engineering. Finance. Media. The law.

It’s what you’d expect from a high-achieving high school in an affluent suburb.

But — quietly, creatively and in high numbers — Staples alums are making their marks as chefs, caterers and restaurant owners too.

For over a decade, the school’s culinary program has been as dynamic as its academics, arts and athletics.

Recently, “06880” profiled Alison Milwe Grace. A highly regarded instructor — one of 3 formally trained chefs in the culinary department — and owner of a catering company, she reached the final round in the Food Network’s “Kitchen Casino.”

Josh Litvinoff

Josh Litvinoff

Last month, 4 of Cecily Gans’ former students earned degrees from  Johnson & Wales University‘s prestigious culinary program. Kelly Powers, Becca Nissim, Brandon Hans-Lemus and Josh Litvinoff now move on to the next stage in exciting careers.

Josh — who joined Kelly in starting a college catering and demonstration business — says it would not have happened without Gans’ help and guidance.

“She continues to check in on us,” he notes. “She even comes to Providence to catch up.”

Gans is proud of her 4 former students. Kelly — who worked with Bill Taibe at The Whelk — honed her writing skills at Staples, then began a Culinary Journalism Club at JWU. Josh completed his senior year in high school and 1st year of college at the same time. Brandon did an internship at the Dressing Room, stoking the passion first ignited in the Staples kitchen.

Gans calls JWU “the right fit” for all 4. One reason: the support given to them in Westport by this “very progressive, very supportive school system.”

The Staples curriculum is “college-level,” she says. “We individualize the program to meet every student’s needs. There’s baking and pastry. In Culinary II we do international and American regional cooking, in a professional setting. We work with the Farmers’ Market. We stay current, and pay a lot of attention to local and seasonal foods. So students who go on to culinary school have a great foundation already.”

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Cecily Gans and her culinary students prepare to enjoy one of their own meals. (Photo/Ben Reiser for Inklings)

Gans cites other graduates. Alex Burger is cooking at 1 of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Jose Olmeda works with a leading Philadelphia chef. John Nealon, his wife Sophie Potash and Rob Krauss opened the highly regarded Fortina in Armonk, New York. Kat Leong was most recently the catering director at Carnegie Hall.

Other graduates are pursuing related careers, like nutrition.

“If that’s what’s in their heart, we help set them up for success,” Gans says. “That’s our goal. We want to see them find their passion, thrive and feel fulfilled.”

Most of Gans’ students, of course, do not go on to culinary school, or careers in that field. That’s fine. She is happy to give them a lifelong appreciation for food — and the knowledge of how to prepare it.

“This is an incredible school system,” Gans says. “Like everyone else here, I’m glad I can help kids figure out their next steps.”

Chef Grace Plays “Kitchen Casino”

Alison Milwe Grace thrives on chaos.

The 1988 Staples High School graduate is in her 10th year teaching a full load of culinary classes at her alma mater. She also owns AMG Catering, a thriving business that for over 17 years has served a full course of weddings, b-mitzvahs, parties, fundraisers and corporate events — while also offering cooking classes and corporate team-building kitchen events.

Oh, yeah. She has 3 kids, ages 11, 8 and 5.

But nothing could have prepared Chef Grace for the chaos of one day in January.

Chef Alison Milwe Grace. (Photo courtesy of Town Vibe)

Chef Alison Milwe Grace. (Photo courtesy of Town Vibe)

For a wild 17 hours, the Institute of Culinary Education grad — whose resume includes a stint as the only female chef at Manhattan’s Patroon — competed in the Food Network’s “Kitchen Casino.”

The Food Network placed 4 talented chefs in “a high-stakes game of chance that is all about skill, speed and adaptability.” Racing a clock, competitors have to “outcook and outsmart their competition in 3 casino-themed challenges — slots, poker and roulette — for a chance to win a $30,000 jackpot.”

One test: The kitchen spins like a roulette wheel. Each chef gets someone else’s dish in progress, and must deal with it. While making suitably pissy comments.

Chef Grace calls it “cooking your brains out, with a time limit.”

The "Kitchen Casino" set includes a revolving roulette wheel, with 4 cooking stations. Each has an oven and stove top.

The “Kitchen Casino” set includes a revolving roulette wheel, with 4 cooking stations. Each has an oven and stove top.

The Food Network found Grace, and asked her to appear. (She has no idea how.) She knew nothing about the show — it’s new, so no one did — and producers said little. They did mention, though, that contestants “might sabotage” each other.

Grace prepped for the shooting by “Googling random recipes, to get proportions right in my head.” She also watched a lot of “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

The loooong day of shooting — on Martin Luther King weekend — was “the most exhausting, emotional, validating, energizing, exciting day of my culinary career,” Chef Grace says.

She likens the feeling to the middle of a huge catering event. She’ll work with a bride or fundraising organization for over a year; when the big day arrives, it all comes together. But there are tons of moving parts. It’s chaotic.

“The TV show was all that,” Grace says. “It was a very good fit for my personality.”

Alison Milwe Grace on TV

Her Staples students are just finding out their teacher will be a TV star. But her family has known for months.

“They love watching the promos on TV,” Grace says. “They’ve been totally supportive of my career.

“My kids know that Mommy works weekends. For them, seeing me on TV is way cooler than watching me leave every morning.”

So how did she do? Did she win the $30,000 jackpot?

Chef Grace can’t say. She signed tons of non-disclosure agreements. She not only can’t tell “06880” — she has not told her children. Or her husband.

They’ll find out when the rest of us do. The show premieres April 7. Grace’s episode airs Monday, April 21 (9 p.m.).

It’s the 50th wedding anniversary of her parents, Jeff and Judy. Alison and her family will be celebrating with the extended Milwe clan in Florida.

So she won’t even have to cook.

(For more on “Kitchen Casino” — including a trailer — click here.)