In her 35 years teaching in the , Kit Little has made lasting impressions on many lives.
A framed letter from a former student, who now works as a chef at a popular downtown restaurant, states his gratitude for the way Little helped him "turn my life around" and his appreciation for how she helps turn students into better people.
On May 18, students of Little’s catering class brought their talents to the tables of several local chefs as part of the annual Cooking Competition.
Run much in the same way that an episode of “Iron Chef," students were first given time to research and create recipes using the “secret” ingredient. This time around, that ingredient was bacon.
Some may think it's difficult to go wrong with bacon. Still, the students had to work diligently and use their time wisely to find, create, prepare and plate their dishes.
Little said some students began arriving to school as early as 6:45 a.m. to meet a “plating” deadline of 9:30 a.m.
“I didn't help students select their recipes, prepare their food, check seasoning, give plating suggestions,” said Little. “All of their work was done at school the morning of the event.”
The competitors’ dishes (winners and judges listed below) were judged by a panel of food service professionals, many of whom took Little’s catering class at Village as recently as last year.
Any good home economics or catering teacher worth his or her salt will tell you that food preparation covers a wide variety of educational disciplines, including mathematics, reading, following directions, scientific methods, research and history, geography, biology and culture.
One built-in lesson for students of Little’s classes has been in learning about different dietary needs and how to identify, find, include and/or remove certain types of food to meet people’s dietary requirements or allergy restrictions.
Twice-monthly Pleasanton school board meetings have been an effective training ground. At least once per month, Little’s classes prepare a serving of healthful snacks for the school board members who spend as many as six hours twice a month in evening meetings.
“Among the 12 board members there are three different food intolerances or restrictions,” said Little. “One board member requires a gluten-free diet, one has an allergy to garlic and another is a vegetarian.”
As much as possible, Little and her students prepare dishes that can meet every individual’s needs. When this cannot be arranged, they provide modifications to the food selections.
This past Tuesday, for instance, Little’s fourth- and fifth-period classes prepared a beautiful spread of nutritious food stuffs for that night’s school board meeting. The meal included a fruit plate consisting of two pineapple “boats,” cut so slices could be easily removed and eaten along with bunches of red grapes and sliced kiwi fruit.
The menu also featured homemade focaccia bread and a fresh salad with purses of phyllo dough, a spring mix of lettuces with dried cranberries and pecans hand-seasoned and toasted by student, Julia Vespi. Dessert featured strawberry shortcake made of a freshly baked light chiffon-style cake and fresh strawberries.
The special diet needs have migrated into students’ consciousness about healthful eating habits. One student even explained he works as a personal chef for his neighbor.
Six of Little’s former students volunteered to judge the cooking contest entries last week.
“Many more of my students in my 35 years of teaching than these 6 judges have gone on to pursue careers in Food Service and Hospitality,” said Little.
Some, such as 2011 graduate, Cynthia Gil, were hand picked by restaurant owners for their current positions. Gil currently works as a cook at Eddie Papa’s American Hangout in Pleasanton.
“But more importantly, all of my students, through the daily responsibilities and rigors of operating a catering business, have developed their work ethic, people skills, integrity, teamwork, leadership, time management, and organizational skills."
These skills, she said, are transferrable not only to any career or educational path a student may pursue, but to their own home lives.
Challenging themselves to put passion into weekly jobs for customers who appreciate their work, Little said, builds students’ self esteem and problem-solving abilities, expands the reaches of their creativity and inspires them to “raise the bar” and stretch to achieve higher goals.
“Those memories and their appreciation of the skills learned are why past students constantly stop by, email, text about their accomplishments at work, request recipes we made in class and to chat about what they're cooking,” she said.
Past students frequently volunteer in the classroom and give back to the program.
“What (my former students) accomplish after they leave and how they continue to use skills we work so hard to master never ceases to amaze me,” said Little.
“It is my joy and my inspiration.”
2012 Village High Catering Cooking contest winners and finalists:
- First Place: Matt Zatorski won the contest with his “Loaded Bacon Calzone”
- Second Place (tie): Casey Persson & Kyle Lovell, with their Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf, and Melody Acidera and Nick Rodriguez, with a sirloin steak served with mashed potatoes and bacon
- Third Place: Chris Spooner and Brian Henderson, with a Bacon Quesadilla
- Fourth Place (three-way tie): Sterling Koller and Taylor Bidleman with their Risotto with Asparagus & Prosciutto; Haley Clifton with her Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus, and Lizzie Boyd and Johnny Valdovinos with their Bacon-Wrapped Smokies.
Former students on 2012 Village High Cooking Contest Judging Panel:
- Adam Brown (Foothill High School, 2000): Executive Chef, Casa Real and Palm Event Centers, Pleasanton
- Cody Cost (Village High School, 2004): Chef de Cuisine Nonni's Bistro on Main St., Pleasanton.
- Julia Cox (Foothill High School, 1999): Dietitian, Manor House Skilled Nursing, Walnut Creek
- Cynthia Gil (Village High, 2011): Cook at Eddie Papa's in Pleasanton and at Cool Hand Luke's Steakhouse, Riverbank
- Nicole Skllings (Foothill High School, 2003): Chef and Owner, Forno Vecchio, Main St., Pleasanton.
- Alison Tuttle (Village High, 2006): Kit Little’s assistant for the day.