FARMINGTON — I had been anticipating a full dining experience at one of the area’s lesser-known eateries since I’d first learned about it two months ago. While I had enjoyed an impromptu meal at this restaurant the day I discovered it, I had yet to experience the restaurant fully-staffed. Once the busyness of the holiday season was over, I was given the go-ahead to start planning my visit.

I called ahead to make a reservation and inquired about the menu. I was told a variety of soups would be offered. Given the snowy winter weather we’d experienced recently, soup sounded perfect.

Upon arrival, Justin Stewart checked me in and reviewed the menu with me. “We have four soups to choose from today: broccoli cheddar, vichyssoise, Thai coconut chicken curry and fish chowder,” said Stewart. “We also have chicken marsala with wild rice and focaccia.”

I’d had my heart set on soup but didn’t think I could pass up a chance to dine on Italian cuisine. While I pondered my decision, I was invited into the kitchen to witness the staff at work. I asked about the soups.

“The fish chowder is made with fresh haddock, not frozen,” said Tatiana Quinonez, a Mt. Abram High School student. “ We use cream and evaporated milk as a base so it is thick and creamy.”

Justin Stewart cleans up after a Chef’s Table lunch shift. Stewart is a senior at Mt. Blue High School and is in his second year of the culinary arts program at Foster CTE. (Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear)

“The Thai coconut curry is loaded with chicken. Surprisingly it is sweet, not spicy,” said Sam DeFroscia, also of Mt. Abram.

“The Vichyssoise is traditionally served chilled but we serve it warm. It is a pureed leek and potato soup topped with bacon,” said Stewart. Stewart is a senior at Mt. Blue High School.

These aspiring chefs are among 13 students in the culinary arts program at Foster Career and Technical Education Center. Sean Minear teaches the program. Together, they operate the Chef’s Table at Mt Blue Campus.

“The broccoli cheddar is made with Kraft Old English Cheddar, broccoli and is served with bacon,” said Sierra Fay. “It is a bit thin.”

“The soup will thicken,” said Sean Minear. “Soups are always better the day after they are made. It gives them a chance to thicken and the flavors a chance to marry.”

“The marsala is a chicken breast served on a bed of wild rice and is topped with diced ham, mushrooms, fresh parsley, herbs, and a creamy sauce,” said Fay.

The featured entree at the Chef’s Table recently was a fresh and flavorful chicken marsala on a bed of wild rice and focaccia. (Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear)

Minear shops for ingredients each morning at a local grocery store. That morning, he said, he forgot to pick up prosciutto but there was a supply of quality baked ham in the kitchen. He used it as a lesson in substituting ingredients.

“There is no Italian law that says you have to use prosciutto in this entree,” Minear said.

I opted for the marsala and was treated to a lunch that was rich in flavor and very filling. Caramelized onions and garlic, diced ham and fresh mushrooms completed the herb-laden sauce. The wild rice and roasted chicken were cooked to perfection. Neither was too moist nor too dry. The hearty herb-based focaccia complemented the entree in flavor and in function.

“Focaccia is a bread that is easy to make and can be used to sweep up the sauce,” said Stewart.

Flavor, culture

The year-long program focuses first on fundamentals, said Minear. Students learn about food safety, sanitation, and different cooking methods.

“The goal is to get kids to experience different foods, flavors and cultures that they might not typically have access to locally,” he added.

After the holiday break, students put together everything they have learned and open the restaurant.  The clientele is mainly teachers and staff but Minear encourages community members to consider dining at the Chef’s Table.

“We want to do anything we can to get the public in here to see what our kids are doing,” Minear said. “I want to showcase the talents and skills of these kids. Right now, they are the ones running the kitchen.”

Sierra Fay serves a meal at the Chef’s Table. The restaurant is run by the Foster Career and Technical Education Center culinary arts program at Mt. Blue Campus, 129 Seamon Rd. (Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear)

The Chef’s Table is typically open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. when school is in session. To make a reservation or to inquire about the menu, call 778-3561 and ask for the culinary arts room. Guests will need to check in at the Mt. Blue High School main office. Cost of the lunch is $4. An agreement with SeniorsPlus allows seniors 60 and older to dine for $2.50, said Minear.

The culinary arts program is one of more than a dozen programs offered at Foster CTE. The center primarily serves juniors and seniors from Mt. Blue High School, Spruce Mountain High School, Mt. Abram High School and Rangeley Lakes Regional School.

For more information, visit www.foster.mainecte.org.

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