LEWISTON — Over The Green Ladle’s wing weekend, Matthew Ahlquist is the wing man.
The Lewiston High School senior keeps a meat thermometer in the sleeve of his chef’s coat and the hot sauce recipe in his head.
As he was taught, he counters the fiery combination of red hot sauce and Tabasco with butter and honey.
“You do it so it doesn’t hit you in the face,” he said, shaking a batch of fresh-out-of-the-Fryolator chicken wings into a stainless steel bowl. He then poured in the sauce, covered the bowl with its twin and shook.
When he lifted the top bowl a moment later, he revealed a pile of wings, each the color of a brand new road cone. The aroma followed. It was hot and spicy but stopped short of many hot wings’ eye-watering inferno.
The butter and honey soften the flavor, Ahlquist said. And the honey gives the wings a finger-licking stickiness that wings seem to want.
It’s need-to-know information for the ladle.
On Saturday, the culinary program of the Lewiston Regional Technical center will host about 250 high schoolers for Wing Night, a pre-Super Bowl bash with six different varieties of chicken wings and a variety of other foods. And on Sunday, the restaurant and banquet facility will be sending out wings and other Super Bowl fare — lasagnas, sausages, chili, chicken fingers, meatballs and pastries — to meet special takeout orders (sorry, the ordering deadline has passed).
By the end of the weekend, Ahlquist and the other student chefs figure to go through vats of chili, sheet after sheet of pastries and 14 cases of wings, each weighing 40 pounds.
Dan Caron, the instructor/chef who heads the school culinary program, insists that the pace and the amount of food being prepared is fairly typical.
The institution serves a reservation-only lunch most Thursdays and Fridays from January to May. There is everyday food preparation that goes with any culinary program. There are also adult education classes and catering events.
Then, there are special events such as the Super Bowl.
“We now do every holiday like Christmas and Easter,” he said. At Thanksgiving, people could have bought their turkey and all the fixings from the Green Ladle. This Easter, they’ll be offering a ham dinner.
“Adding the Super Bowl sounded like fun,” Caron said. He, the other instructors and the kids settled on offering a menu of fun, comfort food.
“Nobody wants anything fancy at a Super Bowl party,” Caron said. So they created 33 different items, including variety packs of chicken wings, blackened chicken or beef chili, chicken Alfredo and beef teriyaki tips. Among the desserts were mini cheesecakes and Napoleons.
All were being prepared by about 30 students, overseen by three instructors, including Caron.
It’s a lot of work, but that’s OK.
About 80 percent of graduates of the program end up going into a food-related field. After five years, 70 percent are still there, Caron said.
They learn the importance of work, though.
Now and then, a kid will leave the program with plans to enter a different field.
“They say, ‘Restaurants make you work too hard,'” Caron said. He doesn’t mind. They know what they’re getting into. “It’s real world. That’s the bottom line.”
Patrick Austin, one of the chili cookers, didn’t seem to mind the work.
The senior from Oak Hill High School worked from a brief recipe that included little direction. He’d long ago given up being nervous that it might not turn out perfectly.
Maybe those thoughts hit him a year ago, when he was a newcomer to the program. Today, Austin and Ahlquist are both getting ready to attend the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt.
“If I have a question, I still ask,” Austin said as he checked on a cooking mixture of onions and peppers meant to spice his chili. “Once you do it once, you got it.”
Editors’ note: Lewiston High School student Matthew Ahlquist was misidentified as attending another school in an earlier version of this story.