By Alex Lippa
---- — SALEM — Yesterday’s lunch at the Boys and Girls Club wasn’t hamburgers and hot dogs. Dishes ranged from baked stuffed shrimp wrapped in prosciutto to a portabella mushroom stuffed with sausage, cheese and rice.
But it wasn’t a gourmet Italian chef who prepared the meals. It was all made by 10 teenagers.
For the culmination of a 10-week junior chef program, the teens prepared a four-course meal — with help from Tuscan Kitchen.
“It was really cool,” said Sarah Mersereau, 17, of Salem. “These are real people teaching us real things, so it was really cool to be a part of that.”
Eddie Payne, the corporate executive chef at Tuscan Kitchen, helped train the teenagers in his craft. He taught them everything from sauteing mushrooms and baking bread to kitchen safety and cleaning tips.
“Every week, they get together with me and we work on something new,” Payne said. “It’s basically like an Italian school.”
Yesterday, was the grand finale of the program, which was funded by Tuscan Kitchen.
Each teen made a dish and served it to 30 residents and local business owners. They were also presented with their own chef’s jacket with their names embroidered on them.
Each diner made a $100 donation, which will go toward the program in the future.
The dishes served wouldn’t be found in a beginner’s cookbook. Each dish was based on something that is on the menu at Tuscan Kitchen.
Many of the teens had previous experience cooking. Several participate in the culinary program at Salem High School.
“I have a passion for cooking,” said Max Wildfeuer, 17, of Salem. “I’m glad we were able to do this over the summer.”
Mersereau said she hopes the course will help her on her way to a future career.
“I’m really interested in food sciences,” she said. “We’re learning under a chef, but he really knows everything when it comes to operating a restaurant.”
Payne said developing the teens into chefs was the purpose of the program.
“When we came to Salem, we automatically were drawn to the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “We hope these kids will develop like we did and start at an early age.”
Tuscan Kitchen owner Joe Faro said there were some nervous moments along the way, but things turned out better than he expected.
“The first couple weeks, the kids weren’t picking everything up and I was wondering how this was going to go,” he said. “But the kids really aced everything by the end.”
Faro wasn’t the only one who was a little nervous.
“It’s a little nervous serving to all these people,” said Aidan Breen, 14, of Salem, while preparing filet mignon wrapped in pancetta. “But it will be fun.”
The food got rave reviews.
“This is all excellent,” said Gino Baroni of Atkinson, savoring an heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad. “It’s restaurant quality. Coming from an Italian, that is big praise.”
Payne said the teens deserve the credit for being quick learners.
“It surprised me really,” he said. “I was very pleased how eager they were to learn everything.”
Payne said plans are already in the works for the next session of the junior chef program. It will be an after-school program in October.