By John Burton
RED BANK – The students were cooking for a cause.
Members of Red Bank Regional High School’s Culinary Club were hard at work last week putting their skills and talents to particularly good use while preparing a variety of foods to be served for a fundraiser at JBJ’s Soul Kitchen, 207 Monmouth St.
The evening event, dubbed “Hope is Delicious” which is the nonprofit restaurant’s slogan, had club members serve as the guest chefs, working for days, prepping the five-course dinner to be served during two sold-out seating of 30 diners each to raise money for the restaurant.
Established by rock star Jon Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, Soul Kitchen helps the needy, hungry and food insecure. Diners at the restaurant either pay a minimum of $10 for their meal or pay for their dinner by doing some volunteer work there. Those who volunteer at Soul Kitchen also can be steered toward social services that are available in the area that might be of use to them.
“I just love their energy and excitement,” Bongiovi said of the 10 club members milling about in the restaurant’s kitchen, getting ready for the evening’s presentation. “For them, I’m sure it’ll be a treat to have people eat their food in a restaurant environment,” in addition to offering their services for a good cause.
“They look so great in their chef’s coats, too,” Bongiovi added.
Peter Roskowinski, a teacher with the culinary arts program at the RBR who oversees the culinary club, said the idea for the event was to give the students some real-world experience. “I like to bring kids into a commercial setting,” he said.
In the past, the teens have done some volunteer prep work for Soul Kitchen.
What makes this exercise particularly special is that it “exposes the kids to what Soul kitchen does,” Roskowinski said.
He hoped the students would take away the lesson that “it fills your heart to be able to do something good for people,” he said.
The club has about 30 members, some of whom are students in the school’s culinary arts program. About four or five the seniors are planning to go onto culinary education programs.
Tomas Flores, an 18-year-old senior from Red Bank, is already a veteran of the restaurant business, having worked in the business since he was 14. He is currently working at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson and hopes to continue in the trade.
“I like the fast pace, working in the hot spot,” he said, noting he wants a career in restaurant management.
Ever since she was a little girl, Victoria Scamardella, 15, of Brielle, has loved helping her mother in the kitchen.
“I’m Italian and I grew up in a family that just loves to cook,” she said. “I see it as an art … You have to have a sense of art to be a chef.”
Flores agreed. “You can be creative with food, instead of just following the recipes.”
“It allows me to express myself in different ways,” while treating people to his creations, said Chris Donnelly, 18, of Little Silver.
The students were responsible for creating the menu while using food donated by ShopRite of Middletown. Those attending the dinner were treated to elaborate offerings of paneed Parmesan crusted eggplant finished with shrimp mamou; lasagna roulades blanketed with an andouille Bolognese; and Cajun roasted pork tenderloins plated with a poorman’s jambalaya.
“I really do believe you learn how to cook by cooking,” said Roskowinski, stressing how important hands-on work like this is in the student’s skill development.
Derrick Bradley, a 16-year-old sophomore from Bradley Beach who is in the culinary arts program, said his favorite selection was the eggplant entrée. “What’s great is I get to show people the skills I have and use them to help people,” he said.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve had,” Scamardella said. “I’m in a professional kitchen working and giving back to the community.”
Roskowinski, a retired career chef, hopes the event is the start of a relationship with Soul Kitchen for the culinary program and club that will open opportunities for the students in the future.