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Serving up some hands-on advice

Posted on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 11:55 am

Budding chef offers CHS culinary arts classes a peek into life at top chef school

Manchester native Tori Perry, a second-year student at one of the nation’s premier culi-nary universities, demonstrates to Mrs. Susan Steele’s culinary arts class how to break down whole chicken. (Photos by John Coffelt)

“I go into class and it’s like a having a full-time job, but I go into class excited everyday [to be] cooking.”

–Tori Perry

 By John Coffelt, STAFF WRITER

Coffee County Central High School culinary arts students last week received a peek into nation’s elite Culinary Institute of America, at Hyde Park, N.Y., through a returning second-year student coming to her hometown for a break before an externship out west.

Tori Perry, a 2012 graduate of CHS, told Susan Steele’s classes about what she had learned over the last year – and demonstrated skills she has learned along the way.

While talking, her training shows, barely taking note of the razor-sharp knife in her hands as she unconsciously cuts slippery chicken pieces.

“[The CIA] has been nothing short of life changing,” she tells the class. A small snap of chicken leg punctuates her words.

She tells the former classmates about her second year when she will be certified in wine, work in public, gourmet restaurants on campus and move from culinary basics into regionally specific cuisines.

“I’m a full-time student, and it’s nothing less that a full-time job.”

At CIA, the instruction is relentless. One course, breakfast foods, begins at 2 a.m.

Cutting any class will cost you a letter grade – two and you’ll fail the course.

“Our chefs are pretty rigorous, but, for the most part, they’re pretty nice and they want you to learn,” Perry says.

Aside from kitchen classes, there are regular academic and business classes.

“It’s been really crazy, but my school is nothing but the best.  I’m really happy I made the decision to move.”

She said that moving to New York as an 18-year-old was intense – the new lifestyle her biggest surprise, but also the move has opened her eyes to cultures she would have otherwise never found.

A friend from Korea hasn’t been able to go home since starting school, the family of another girl from Costa Rica, owns a pineapple farm.

“The best thing about moving away is meeting new people,” she says. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of foods that I would have otherwise.

“The diversity of people [is great], getting to work with people and the different styles of how they look at food. It gives you a different outlook at life; there’s more to like than here.”

In the kitchen, Perry may have broken down chicken countless times, but working in her former classroom is a special treat.

Every move bespeaks efficiency. Contentment shows on her features, Perry removes the legs of the chicken, recounting the first time she cut herself badly.

“I cut myself on the last day of meat class [working on chicken], and it was rough. I almost cut my finger off,” she tells the students.

In meat class, whole market quantities of meat are brought in to show the budding chefs the butchering side of food production that they won’t usually see in restaurants.

“I started bleeding really bad, and [this kid in class] asked, ‘Tori do you need to go to the nurse?’ ”

Perry, a little squeamish around blood, got the friend to bandage the finger, but wouldn’t look at it, and then got back to work.

“Basically when cutting meat, you just follow the natural seams of the meat,” she advises.

Perry shows them how to French the bird’s wings. Not what it sounds like, Frenching is trimming meat to expose a length of bone. Visualize a rack of lamb with the ribs exposed.

This is a pretty elementary skill that CIA would-be chefs learn early on. The food is passed along to students that have mastered the skill to practice preparing.

“You build on everything,” she said.

Classes at CIA are small and unlike other studies, a class will pretty much stay together throughout the program.

“The really cool thing about cooking is that while all of us may be away from home, it’s a away for us to bond. We usually do a Sunday family meal.”

Next up in Perry’s education is an externship later this month at The Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Resort in Tabernash, Colo. This is when students finishing their second semester are required to work for a block in an elite restaurant.

“It’s basically like finding a job. You apply for the job and are interviewed for it.”

She will move to Devil’s Thumb where she will learn rustic, western-style cuisine under Executive Chef Evan Treadwell and Sous Chef.

The Devil’s Thumb Ranch House menu includes a $30 Duck Confit, Wild Boar and Venison Cassoulet, Walnut Crusted Pork Loin and Elk Filet Mignon, $38.

She plans to continue after earning her Associate’s Degree at CIA into the school’s four-year program.

Perry was excited to return to CHS to talk.

“Miss Steele means a lot to me. She helped me a lot to know that cooking was my thing. There are so many fields you can go into. I was kinda overwhelmed.”

Perry said that Steele helped focus her intentions onto a career that she loves.

“I go into class and it’s like a having job, but I go into class excited everyday [to be] cooking.