EASTPOINTE — Once a month, a group of about four dozen senior citizens gathers at the L.B. Williams Room at Roseville Middle School for a gourmet lunch on a budget.
The L.B. Williams Room is the culinary arts and restaurant management division of the high school’s career technical education program. Students learn everything needed to run a kitchen, from sanitation, to budgeting, to, of course, gourmet cooking.
That’s what brings the 45-50 seniors from the Recreational Authority of Roseville and Eastpointe’s senior center in each month. For $5 each, they are served a multicourse gourmet meal. Each visit offers a new culinary delight made by the sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in the course.
On March 21, seniors were served a risotto ball, stuffed artichoke heart and bacon-wrapped chicken scallops plated to perfection, homemade soup described as similar to chicken noodle without chicken or noodles, salad, a beef-based entrée and gourmet cupcakes.
“It’s fabulous and it’s wonderful,” said Elaine Bozin, a St. Clair Shores resident active in the authority’s senior center. “The students are trying so hard and learning, and the food is delicious.”
“We come all the time,” added Susan Pieper, a Roseville senior center member seated at a table with her husband and a friend. “I mean, where can you get food like this? It’s kind of a gourmet-like type of food. The beef was very good, and I even liked the soup. I’ll probably get the recipe for both.”
Unlike most gourmet eateries, the student chefs at the L.B. Williams Room are happy to share their recipes with diners who want to try them at home.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people will write down recipes before we leave,” said Leona Niedoliwka, senior center director. “It’s just so good. They all get to mingle and they take home recipes. They’ll talk about it for a few weeks.”
The monthly lunch offers seniors a social gathering to look forward to and gives students cooking and service practice that they can put to real-world use after graduation.
“This intergenerational thing is great,” said Jon Grommons, who runs the culinary program at Roseville High School. “First and foremost, it gives the kids a really good chance to socialize and practice appropriate business behavior, but also it gives these folks a chance to see teenagers doing something that’s positive.”
The senior lunch is just one of the opportunities to experience what the yearlong, two-hour-per-day course offers students. The L.B. Williams Room caters the annual themed district-wide event attended by students from all Roseville Community Schools, their families and community members; a handful of community events; the Taste of Eastpointe and Roseville; and any number of private events each year.
By the end of their senior year, students who have been enrolled in the program for two years are able to earn college credits. The program is designed for students interested in going into the culinary arts, hospitality or restaurant-management fields, but it draws a larger group of students.
“We have a large pool of students who aren’t interested in going into the field; students who are in their senior year and are taking it as an exploratory course; students who have maybe filled all their credit requirements and want to take it because they will be getting more of an experience than just sitting in the classroom; students that are curious; and students that just like to eat,” Grommons said.
“I tell them, I understand you don’t want to be a chef or go into the industry, but you’re going to be feeding yourself, your family, so you want to be able to do it hygienically — you don’t want to give anyone food poisoning — and nutritiously.”
Junior Shareay Chavies made gourmet cupcakes for the March 21 luncheon. She doesn’t know if she wants to go into culinary arts, but she is having fun trying it out.
“I wanted to know how to cook more stuff — I got tired of cooking the same stuff at home,” she said. “First, I was scared, and then I started watching (Grommons), and one day, he said we had to do a cooking project, and I looked this recipe up on the Internet, and I did it. They are chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate filling.”
Students like Chavies might make up the majority of the students in the program — students who start off merely curious and end up with an enhanced interest that, in some cases, even leads to careers — but there are always a few students who know exactly why they are there from day one. Students who already know their way around a kitchen and are ready to begin learning the skills that will help them on their way to becoming world-class chefs.
Sophomore Mark Brunell is one of those students. He’s been cooking since he was a little kid and soon started dreaming of a future in the industry.
“I’ve been cooking ever since I was seven,” Brunell said. “My dad taught me how to mix muffins, and after just going to restaurants and seeing the capabilities, I wanted to be making my own dishes and be up there with the top chefs.”
In February, Brunell, along with six other students in the program, traveled to Lansing for a statewide culinary competition. Two teams, each made up of two students from Roseville, performed well, but they did not earn a scholarship spot in the top five.
Brunell did not compete; he was there to support the four upperclassmen who did and check it out for next year, when he will compete. For him, the culinary program and the culinary competitions it includes are the center of his high school curriculum and future career.
“I love it,” he said when asked about the course and the study of culinary arts. “Creativity is inspired here. This is an art, and I love it.”
For more information on the L.B. Williams Room, call (586) 445-5635 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays during the school year. Senior activities can be reached at (586) 777-7177.
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