Tag Archives: Cecily Gans

Teachers Whip Up A Tasty Day

For years, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Staples High School’s culinary arts program have teamed up to bring great food to folks in need.

Once a month, students shop for provisions at the market. Then they prepare and serve a delicious, nutritious meal at the Gillespie Center.

Yesterday, many more people got in the act.

As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.

The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.

Staples’ 3 culinary instructors (from left): Laura Wendt, Alison Milwe-Grace, Cecily Gans.

The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.

Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.

The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.

Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.

Westport teachers cook for the community.

Staples, Farmers’ Market, Gillespie Center: Seed, Feed And Lead

The Westport Farmers’ Market opened for its 12th season last month.

As usual, plenty of vendors offered everything from locally grown and raised produce and meat, to honey and bread.

The crowd was large. The vibe (and weather) was warm. Another year was underway.

And — for the 9th year — the Market will partner with 2 other important town programs: the Gillespie Center, and Staples High School’s culinary classes.

It’s a win-win-win. In fact, it’s one of the most intriguing partnerships around.

Once a month — at the end of Thursdays, as vendors close up — the Farmers’ Market purchases unsold food. Volunteers transport it to Staples.

There, chef Cecily Gans’ students create unique menus, and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals. The Farmers’ Market picks those up and takes them to the Gillespie Center — Westport’s emergency shelter.

Gans’ students — with help from Rotary Club members and the Farmers’ Market — then serve the meals they’ve cooked.

“Seed, feed and educate” is the way WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall describes the 3-prong partnership. They call it “Farms to School to Community.”

“We’re lucky to live in a privileged area,” she says. “This program allows kids to see neighbors who have fallen on hard times in a different light.”

Relationships bloom. Last year, an older man gruffly refused vegetables.

“My mom always says to eat all your vegetables,” a girl replied.

His face softened. He took some.

Fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other produce are used creatively — and deliciously by Staples’ culinary students.

Soon, he was back for more. He told the teenager he had not tasted tomatoes like that since his mother served them.

“People in Westport are very generous with their donations to the Gillespie Center,” Gans says. “But there’s not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We bring in high, nutrient-dense foods. That makes a difference. Think about how you or I would function if we didn’t eat well.”

Gans’ students appreciate the opportunity to cook for the residents — and to make their menus count. Each month, the ingredients are different.

Among the recipes: Hungarian gulyas; butternut squash pasta; asparagus with miso lemon dressing; quinoa tabouleh with parsley and mint, and curried pumpkin with raisin.

“They think outside the box,” their instructor says. “They’re creative. They get the opportunity to serve, and see the needs of their community. Their level of responsibility really impresses me.”

Three graduating seniors — Christian Franceze, Alex Ialeggio and Ryan Liu — have been involved for all 4 years at Staples. Next year, Gans counts on juniors to fill their shoes.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

The students build strong relationships with the WFM farmers and vendors. “We’re there at the beginning of the Farmers’ Market season, and the end,” Gans says. “We do whatever we can for them. They do the same for us.”

Cochran-Dougall echoes that sentiment. The director praises everyone in the community who participates — including the major funders, the Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs.

In return, the Staples students print and share the menus they’ve created. It’s one more way to help nourish the town.

(Interested in donating to the Westport Farmers’ Market for this project? Click here — and earmark it for the Gillespie Center.)

Sam Appel: Westport’s Newest Official Rock Star

Sam Appel is redefining the food and beverage industry.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Zagat.

The go-to restaurant guide has just named the 2006 Staples High School grad one of its 30 New York influencers under 30 years old.

Or, as the headline reads: “Rockstars Redefining the Industry.”

ZagatSam was recognized for her work as director of community and programming at Journee. The members-only club for restaurant professionals focuses on career development and continuing education. She helps build and sustain the community — with programming, classes, networking and other projects — in Journee’s 21st Avenue space.

Of course, no one becomes a rock star by herself.

At Staples, Sam took every culinary class she could. She served as a teaching assistant for instructor Cecily Gans; worked at her summer cooking camp; helped with her catering jobs, and assisted on a cookbook.

Sam was drawn to Chef Gans’ “personality, artistry, and beautiful food.”

She was similarly inspired by English teacher Gus Young. He introduced her to the “art and magic” of food writing.

Not surprisingly, Sam’s college application essay was about food writing.

Sam Appel

Sam Appel

She had thought about culinary schools. But when she discovered Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration — with its focus on hospitality — she realized that the business side of food was as intriguing as cooking it.

After graduating from Cornell in 2010, Sam joined restaurant software company Avero as a consultant. She then moved to a marketing position with Chipotle. (Her territory included Westport — so she was involved when they expanded here.)

As a founder of the Toklas Society, she helped build, market and run a nonprofit fostering the professional development of women in food and hospitality.

Sam’s goal is for hospitality to be taken “as seriously as any other career.”

Like, say, rock ‘n’ roll.

Future Chefs Stir It Up In Westport

Tomorrow (Thursday, November 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot) is the final date for this year’s Westport Farmer’s Market.

They’re ending the year with a bang.

Farmers MarketStaples High School’s Advanced Culinary Arts students of Cecily Gans will be among the chef demonstrators (10:15-11 a.m.). And “chef” is the right word. These guys are not just tossing together a Cobb salad.

They’ll feature a recipe by recent graduate Sarah Rountree. Her Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Honey-Mint Sauce was chosen for its seasonality, and the local availability of most ingredients.

But that’s not the only Westport connection. Sarah’s recipe is 1 of 5 featured in Future Chefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World. The handsome book — just published by Rodale Press — includes 150 contributions from teenagers around the world.

Sophia Hampton shows off her culinary skills. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Sophia Hampton shows off her culinary skills. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

But Sarah is not the only Stapleite with a recipe in Future Chefs. Senior Sophia Hampton is included twice, for her Delicata-Crab Hash with Poached Duck Egg, and her Kale Caesar Salad.

Zach Reiser offers up his Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread; Deanna Baris, her Breakfast Cookies.

But it’s not only Staples students who are featured. Wes Beeler was in 8th grade when he contributed his Competition-Ready St. Louis-Style Spareribs. (The competition was the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. He placed 3rd.)

But the book is not limited to recipes. Each young chef has a full write-up. Sophia’s, for example, notes that she volunteers one day a month — with the Culinary Club — serving food at the Gillespie Center, and that as features editor for the school newspaper  Inklings she moved from fashion writing to the food beat.

Future Chefs coverBut they’re not the only Staples students mentioned. Class of 2013 graduate Rusty Schindler was cited in the introduction, while last year’s entire Advanced Culinary Arts class was thanked — individually — in the acknowledgements, for testing many of the recipes.

But those are not the only local connections. Future Chefs was written by Westport author (and New York-trained chef) Ramin Ganeshram. The compelling photographs come courtesy of her husband — and frequent “06880” contributor Jean Paul Vellotti.

There are probably more Staples/Future Chefs tie-ins. If so, you’ll find them at the Farmers Market this Thursday. And the book — available for signing.

If not, you’ll still enjoy Sarah’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts in Honey-Mint Sauce.

(Click on Future Chefs for ordering information.)

Future Chefs - Wes Beeler

Wes Beeler eating his BBQ on the roof of Bobby Q’s. JP Vellotti took the photo on a very cold day. The roof was still a mess from Hurricane Sandy. The publisher said, “Try to make it look like he’s in Texas.”

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.”

Staples Tots Take Top Chef Challenge

Last fall, Cecily Gans was watching “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo. Among the challenges: take a randomly selected food that most children hate — cottage cheese, anyone? — and create a recipe that kids would scarf down. The cast of Nick Jr.’s “Yo Gabba Gabba” came on the show, encouraged good eating habits, then watched as the boys and girls judged the top chefs’ creations.

Cecily was more than mildly interested. For one thing, she is a wildly popular culinary teacher at Staples High School.

For another, she has a daughter the same age as the kids on “Top Chef Masters.”

For a third, she’s worked with the tots who attend Staples’ adorable pre-school (part of Linda McClary’s child development classes).

You know where this story is heading.

Last month, Chef Gans’ advanced class conducted their own “Top Chef Masters” competition.

Brussel sproutsThe students — who spend the semester creating meals from local, seasonally available foods — drew ingredients out of a hat. They included butternut squash (yuck!), brussel sprouts (ugh!), tofu (ick!), cauliflower (blech!) and plain yogurt (gross!).

Each student then devised a unique recipe.

“It went extraordinarily well,” Cecily says. (Phew!)

The pre-schoolers eagerly tried new things. One girl ate everything: mac-and-cheese with tofu, butternut squash ravioli, you name it.

There was only one dud: roasted brussel sprouts with maple syrup glaze. Even all that sugar didn’t help.

The competition went so well, in fact, that Chef Gans is planning another, bigger version this spring.

Liver, anyone?

Click below for a report on the Top Chef Challenge, broadcast on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show. Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.

 

Amelia Green: Fondant And Gluten-Free

On Friday, hundreds of Staples High School seniors finished month-long internships. They learned new skills, interacted with adults, expanded their horizons before heading off to college, the military or the workforce.

But only Amelia Green can say she had her cake and eating it too. Literally.

Amelia Green, with her Captain America cake.

Amelia Green, with her Captain America cake.

The 3rd generation Westporter — her parents are Bill Green (Staples Class of 1976) and Linda Durakis (SHS ’79), while her grandmother, Deborah Green, was a longtime special education teacher here — had 2 separate internships. One was at Lovely Cakes, a Norwalk custom bakery. The other was with Staples culinary instructor Cecily Gans.

In Norwalk, Amelia helped with batter, cuts shapes, and “washed a lot of dishes.” She also was introduced to fondant — the thick, sugary frosting that gives cakes their unique designs.

She used her new knowledge in Chef Gans’ kitchen. Amelia spent much of one week designing a complex, 6-layer red-white-and-blue cake. Rolling, measuring, coloring and spreading the fondant took many hours. It included a clever “Captain America” on top.

When Amelia’s cake was cut, the inside revealed an American flag — including stars and stripes. Homemade butter cream separated each layer.

Amelia's intricate Captain America fondant.

Amelia’s intricate Captain America fondant.

“Conceptually, this was very intricate,” Chef Gans says. “And fondant is very difficult to work with. That’s why custom cakes are so expensive. Amelia made hers from scratch.”

But Amelia is not just about the sugar. Her father has celiac disease, so last summer she wrote and published a gluten-free cookbook: “Sweet Without Wheat.” She experimented constantly to find the best substitutes for wheat flour. Her recipes earned rave reviews on Amazon.

As part of her internship, Amelia taught Gans’ students how to make gluten-free bar cookies and brownies.

This fall, Amelia heads to Lafayette College. Her new roommates are licking their lips in anticipation.

Amelia Green book

Win Win Win Win

Dinner at the Gillespie Center was special on September 9.  Students in Staples’ advanced culinary arts class, along with the Culinary Arts Club, prepared and served food for residents of the town homeless shelter.

They did it again October 14.  And they’ll continue throughout the school year, on the 2nd Friday of each month.

That’s good, and it makes a nice story.  But there’s much more.

The culinary students create menus featuring fresh local produce and meat.  Chef Cecily Gans purchases the items at the Westport Farmers’ Market, held every Thursday in the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Westport Sunrise Rotary provides funding for the food.  Club members also pick up and deliver the food to the Gillespie Center, and coordinate serving with the students.

And the Staples PTA donates funds for essential, um, staples like oil, vinegar and rice.

Talk about a win-win-win-win situation:

  • Students learn about community service, preparing meals with fresh ingredients, and supporting community agriculture programs.
  • The Farmers’ Market helps fill an important need.
  • Sunrise Rotary plays a key role, assisting students and the Gillespie Center.
  • And men and women facing hard times eat healthful, great-tasting meals.

Staples culinary students, with Chef Cecily Gans (3rd from left).

Culinary Camp Cooks Up A Storm

Forget sports camp, computer camp, even band camp.

The cool camp this summer is culinary.

Just watch the 32 boys and girls — all rising 6th through 9th graders — who rush in to Staples’ 2 professional kitchens every morning.  Part of Westport Continuing Education‘s Culinary Camp, they spend 3 hours a day prepping, cooking, cleaning — and eating.

Students Isaac Paparo (left) and Sam Karpenas prepare a meal.

Chef Cecily Gans — renowned for her culinary curriculum at the high school — challenges the youngsters with a different cuisine each day.  The weeks are themed:  European, Asian, American regional.

Gans ties the course’s popularity to television.  “Between the Food Network, ‘Top Chef’ and the cake shows on TV, kids are really into cooking,” she says.  “The minute registration opens, we’re filled.”

The class appeals to both boys and girls.  There are several special needs youngsters, which Gans calls “great.  This is a welcoming environment.  It’s not competitive — everyone works together.”

They prepare a full menu every day:  salads, soups, entrees, desserts.

The most popular cuisines have been New England, Southern Italian — and (surprisingly) Spanish.

One thing the kids don’t like:  pork.

Gans was also surprised to find that 2 boys — whom she figured would love beef or chicken — were interested in something else:  “Whatever involved the most cutting.”

Gans and fellow instructor Lucinda Grieg are aided by 6 counselors — former Staples students and/or campers.  Becca Nissim, who graduated in June, heads this fall to Johnson & Wales — the culinary school that’s Gans’ alma mater.

Gans enjoys hearing nice “feed”back from parents.  She’s also delighted when campers who age out ask to return as counselors.

Culinary Camp 2010 ends on Friday.  Registration for 2011 opens next April.

Counselor Becca Nissim and student Shannon Barry (foreground) work in the kitchen.