Tag Archives: Cecily Gans

John Nealon Feeds His Cugines

John Nealon arrived at Staples High School in 1999 straight from Texas. It was a culture shock. But he played football, and his teammates soon became friends.

He also loved cooking. He took every culinary class offered. Teacher/chef Cecily Gans became a mentor.

John Nealon, in the ’02 Staples yearbook.

Staples football defensive coordinator Lou Socci asked Nealon to cook at his family’s restaurant in New Canaan. That led to steady work — and the perk of creating his own lunches.

“I’d make wraps with mozzarella, bacon, everything,” he recalls. “I said, I want to do this for a living.”

At Providence College, he continued cooking. He learned about the front of the house too, when he moved from an $8-an-hour line cook to waiting tables at Sicilia’s. With tips, he made $300 a night.

After graduating as a history major, Nealon headed straight to restaurant work  After director of operations with a Dallas delivery startup (“a really bad concept,” he laughs), he served as the 23-year-old general manager of Westport’s River Horse Tavern (now Rive Bistro).

To learn about fine dining, Nealon moved to L’Escale in Greenwich. He enrolled in Barcelona/Bartaco’s management program, and ran several of their restaurants for 5 years. Then came Fontina.

He and his wife Morgan — also a restaurant professional — decided to go out on their own. They opened Taco Daddy in Stamford, a “fun, no rules” place with “a rippin’ bar.” Their second venture, Lila Rose, was named after their first child.

Morgan and John Nealon.

Mid-COVID, Nealon and his wife came up with their next concept: elevated Italian cuisine.

“Italian dining has gotten very casual,” he says. “That’s fine. But I think there’s a need for contemporary fine food.” And martinis.

Cugine’s offers great food …

Cugine’s — Italian for “cousin,” but also a term of endearment — opened last month at 121 Towne Street, in Stamford’s Harbor Point neighborhood. It quickly drew raves.

… and an extensive coocktail list …

Nealon hopes to take guests back to “the era of Frank Sinatra and speakeasys.” There is no signage; a man wearing suspenders walks diners in. Nealon seats them. Each table has its own lamp; vintage chandeliers hang overhead.

Despite the labor shortage in restaurants, Nealon had no trouble assembling a staff. Most waiters and bartenders had worked for him before.

… in a “speakeasy” atmosphere.

And the chef? Rick O’Connor (“he’s half Italian!” Nealon notes) is young and talented. “He doesn’t have an ego yet,” the owner says. “Just wait till people tell him how good his food is.”

(Cugine’s Instagram is @CuginesItalian. Click here for more information.)

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Students Dig Into “Food In Literature” Class

It’s a long way from Staples High School’s English classrooms to the culinary wing. And while English lies at the heart of every school’s curriculum. “cooking” — if it’s offered at all — is an elective.

But for several years, Staples’ “Food in Literature” class has been a popular, always filled offering.

Though it involves the stomach, it’s no gut. “Food Lit” is demanding. It forces students out of their comfort zones.

Sure, they eat well. But they also learn life skills. Like how to read, write and think.

And cook.

One student posted photos of her recipes. She’s as talented a photographer as she is a cook.

The course is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary arts teacher Cecily Gans. Meeting back to back for 2 periods, they guide their students through a balanced menu of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The core text last semester was “With the Fire on High,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel about a teenage mother who feels free only in the kitchen. Students read other fiction and non-fiction too.

As part of their writing, they research and then produce an op-ed on a food issue of their choosing. Topics this fall included delivery apps, GMOs, food waste, food insecurity, obesity, supermarket “food deserts, gender stereotypes in advertising, sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, the overabundance of food on social media, and eating in the age of COVID.

Making connections over breakfast.

Throughout the semester, students choose themes that appeal to them. It can be a food based on their heritage, an important concept, or something that strikes their fancy.

This past semester, themes ranged from foods of Asia, South America and the Southern US, to challah, “picky eaters” and healthy trends.

Each theme represents a starting point for individual creativity. Students design blogs, which this year expanded to include how-to videos, TikToks, listicles, and “lessons learned” entries.

The goal is to experiment with different ways to engage audiences, while understanding the rapidly expanding world of food blogging.

Each week, the class features 2 or 3 students on its Instagram account (@foodlitshs).

Students post reviews too. They range from restaurant dining and takeout or curbside experiences, to a meal cooked by others (or themselves) at home.

Class members even learn how to write recipes. It’s not as easy as it looks.

The class ends with “menu wars.” Five judges render verdicts. It’s as intense — and tasty — as any cooking show on TV.

The menu for Menu Wars.

“Food Lit” students dig in to meaty issues, from Day One. They’re hungry for knowledge.

Is your appetite whetted? To see samples of Herzog and Gans’ students’ fall semester work – their blogs, op-eds, recipes, photos and more — click here.

Buon appetito!

“Food In Literature”: Staples’ Most Tasteful Course

COVID ‘s impact on schools is broad and deep. The challenge for every educator is immense.

It’s hard enough teaching math or social studies to half a class via Zoom. But what about a hands-on course like Culinary?

And how do you cope when a collaborative course you’ve honed with a colleague in another department no longer fits the new schedule?

Those are the challenge facing chef Cecily Gans and English instructor Kim Herzog. Their popular “Food in Literature” class no longer meets for long, back-to-back, discussion-and-cooking sessions. Half the students are not even in the well-appointed Staples High School kitchen.

Despite the obstacles, the teachers have cooked up something special.

An artfully designed plate, cooked and created by a “Food in Literature” student.

The semester-long course is intense and demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

Herzog and Gans adapted the curriculum together. They balance the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep each day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

Shrimp fra diavolo.

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many select foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others choose vegan or paleo diets — even desserts.

They read core texts and food memoirs. They write about their own memories and associations. Then they cook those dishes.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

One of the first assignments: study your family’s refrigerator — then write about it.

Gans gives the teenagers plenty of credit for managing the many elements of the class. They all cook — though with social distancing, the usual complex choreography of a kitchen is even more difficult. “We are dancers,” she says.

But distance learning has its benefits. With time at home, students have learned to understand their families better, and celebrate their heritage.

Gans sees this in the stories they write about the role of food in their lives. She’s always believed that food brings people closer together. Now she has proof.

The chef encourages all students — novices and moderately experienced alike — to cook often at home. They’ve taken that to heart.

“This is a unique time in all of our lives,” Gans says. Documenting those memories — in part through food — helps everyone get through it.

A “food pyramid” exercise helps students think about the role food plays in their lives.

Herzog misses the chance to work personally with Gans. Together, they’ve watched students grow as cooks and writers. Now, the gap is bridged mostly by the blogs each student maintains.

She misses too the chance to get to know each teenager’s “voices and styles” as they work communally in the kitchen — and of course the chance to share the fruits of their labor, together at the table.

But they’ve feasted on the work their first semester students accomplished. Many of them have made their websites available to the public.

The writing is insightful. Some is pandemic related: food as a remedy during tough times, celebrating an 18th birthday in isolation by making Bundt cake; what happens to a refrigerator when a family member quarantines.

But there is plenty that is timeless: cooking with the senses; food waste; rising early to bake; Cajun turkey on Thanksgiving; using food to overcome shyness; the dilemma of a picky eater; the joy of ramen noodles when you’re sick.

Click below to read the Staples students’ blogs, food journals and recipes. Bon appétit!

Ben: A Little Taste of Home in Every Bite
Avery: Picky Eaters Guide: Vegan Cooking
Richard: The Comfort of Winter
Ty: Magellan
Nicole: Buon Cibo Italiano
Justin: Scorching Hot
JJ: Breakfast for Kings
Anooshka: Biryani N’ More
Lina: A Taste of the Mediterranean

Food For Thought

At Staples High School, students choose English electives like “Myth and Bible,” “Rhetoric and Persuasion,” and “Shakespeare.”

They can also take “Food in Literature.”

Sounds like a gut.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest courses in the entire school.

Also the tastiest.

The semester class — which meets back-to-back, for 2 periods — includes reading a smorgasbord of activities. There’s reading, writing, even community service (volunteering at the Westport Farmers’ Market).

A Food in Literature demonstration at the first Farmers’ Market of the season last month.

And of course, cooking.

It’s intense. It’s demanding. It takes students who love to write out of their comfort zone and into the kitchen — and those who love to cook, out of their comfort zone and into the classroom.

The class is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary teacher/chef Cecily Gans. They developed the curriculum together, balancing the twin ingredients of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.

It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and all those of reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).

The heart of the course is a theme. Each student chooses something that appeals to him or her.

Many selected foods based on their heritage: Italian, Greek, Pakistani, Mexican. Others selected vegan or paleo diets. One focused on desserts.

Pakistani food. The course even includes tips on food photography.

A boy chose “college cuisine” — dishes that college students can make — after he learned that his older sister was eating cereal for dinner.

Another boy — whose kitchen skills were limited to “eggs and ramen” — said he needed an English credit to graduate. “Accidentally,” he learned to cook.

The core text this semester was “Like Water for Chocolate.” After reading and discussing that food-based novel, students had to compose an ode to an ingredient. The ideas ranged from coffee and coffee cake to jalapeño.

They read food memoirs, then wrote about their own memories and associations. They followed that up by cooking those dishes.

Summer home fries look great!

Other writing assignments include research and interviews that lead to profiles of noted area chefs like Bill Taibe, Anthony Kostelis, Chris Scott, and Staples graduates Becca Nissim and Matt Storch. In the kitchen, they created something inspired by the chef they interviewed.

They study restaurant reviews, and learn to write their own. (They’re far more in-depth, insightful and objective than anything on Yelp — or the local media.)

One student’s notes on how to write a strong chef profile.

All along, students document their progress on personal blogs.

The highlight of the semester is Menu Wars. Using craft and creativity — while linking to their themes — students cook and create cohesive 3-course meals. They also have to write clearly and coherently about it.

Just before seniors left for their internships, the class headed to the Farmers’ Market. In teams of 4 they demonstrated recipes, based on local and seasonal foods. They spoke about what they were doing — because presentation skills are equally important in English and culinary class.

The course is as exciting for the teachers as the students. “I love working with such a wide range of experiences,” says Gans, who often teaches advanced classes.

“Two kids are going on to culinary college next year. But seeing the growth of those with no cooking background at all made me so excited.”

This English course will make you very hungry.

One of those boys wanted to drop out early. He felt out of his depth.

Gans asked him what food inspired him. “He realized he had a story to tell,” she says. “He ended up making chocolate croissants from scratch. That’s so much work!”

Gans also appreciates spending time in Herzog’s classroom. “It’s awe-inspiring what goes on there,” she says.

Kim Herzog (left) and Cecily Gans, with chef Chris Scott. The “Top Chef” finalist — who recently opened Birdman Juke Joint in Bridgeport — spoke to their class.

Herzog, meanwhile, loves collaborating with Gans. “Seeing students in a different, unique, powerful way — and how she gets so much out of them — is invigorating,” the English instructor says.

The course is now a mainstay of the curriculum. But — because every class is  filled with students with different backgrounds and interests — each semester has a different flavor.

Talk about a recipe for success!

(Click here for the Food in Literature class website. It includes links to each student’s personal page, plus all the chef interviews and restaurant reviews. And click below for a couple of bonus videos from the class. These kids do it all.)

Sophia Hampton Skins Chicken Breasts

It’s a coup for any writer to be published in Bon Appétit. Every month, over 1.5 million readers eat up the excellent photos and mouth-watering photos in the food and entertainment magazine.

It’s especially impressive for a writer who has not yet graduated from college.

But that’s what Sophia Hampton did this month.

Her piece — “The More Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts I Sell, the Worse I Feel” — explored her feelings as a butcher at New York’s Hudson & Charles, about the “shapeless blobs (that) are a staple of the American diet.”

Besides working as a whole animal butcher and writer, Sophia is a New York-based farmer. She also graduates — today! — from New York University, where she studied the relationship between healthy soil and healthy people.

And — explaining the connection between chicken breasts, 10003 and 06880 — she is a graduate of Staples High School’s Class of 2015.

Sophia Hampton, naturally.

“Sophia was an extraordinary student of mine, a tremendously dedicated volunteer with the Gillespie Center food program, and a very active participant in our Culinary Arts Club,” says Staples culinary instructor Cecily Gans.

“She had infectious curiosity and enthusiasm about every aspect of the kitchen, and always challenged herself to create something incredible, in taste and aesthetic.”

Sophia interned at prestigious Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills during college.

Earlier at Staples, Gans notes, she found internships and worked in all aspects of the industry.

“Sophia was intrigued by where our food comes from, from the earth it was grown in, to the fire that it was cooked over, before it finds its plate. My college recommendation for her practically wrote itself.

Sophia Hampton — a whole animal butcher — spends time learning about all the animals she works with.

“She had always talked about a professional ‘mash-up’ (before the term even existed) of her passion for all things culinary, with writing, journalism, and the politics and science of food.

“That’s all coming to fruition now. I know this article is just the beginning of what we hear and see from her. ”

Kim Herzog taught Sophia in AP Literature. She calls her “fantastic — as a reader, writer, speaker, listener and critical thinker.

“Being published in Bon Appétit while still in college is a tremendously big deal. It is the highest echelon in the food world, and publishes the strongest voices in the field.”

Herzog says that Sophia’s piece as a “powerful, researched argument filled with her voice – one that I believe will continue to progress in the food world.”

Bon appétit indeed!

(To read Sophia Hampton’s full story, click here.)

While at Staples High School, Sophia Hampton volunteered to serve food at the Gillespie Center.

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.”