PHS culinary students show skills at Graze Birmingham

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

Culinary students at Pelham High School got a taste of what it takes to prepare and cook a dish for a live audience at the Fifth Annual Graze Birmingham on Sept. 8.

Abram Villasenor, Raehgan McIntyre and Avery Fuller participated in the event, which partners area chefs with local farmers to create one-of-a-kind menu items.

The team partnered with shrimp farmer David Coddington of Green Prairie Aquafarm in Boligee, Alabama, and made sautéed shrimp with smoked garlic cream sauce, microgreens and baguettes with preserved lemon.

“It was a very cool experience, and I enjoyed cooking while others watched us,” said Fuller, a sophomore. “I learned a lot more about all of the local produce and ingredients that Alabama has to offer, and I got to try new foods like rabbit.”

Junior Abram Villasenor called the experience “unique and slightly stressful” but said he is already looking forward to doing it again.

“Something I learned in this event was that Birmingham has a variety of agriculture professionals and diverse chefs, which together made very interesting dishes. That made Graze as amazing as it turned out to be,” he said.

McIntyre, also a junior, said she enjoyed getting to cook in front of other people, which made her want to make the food more presentable than if she were cooking alone.

“I learned about all of the different types of produce that are grown all around Birmingham; also, the different types of cultures that Graze brought together,” McIntyre said.

PHS culinary teacher Chef Doug Allen first learned about the Graze event a few years ago through the Alabama Sustainable Agricultural Network (ASAN). The organization’s efforts through Graze allow both chefs and farmers to answer questions from people as they sample the different foods.

More than just the three students on hand got to benefit from the experience. When the school’s team was partnered with Coddington, an entire class had to peel and de-vein 500 shrimp. Another class made bread, and another smoked the garlic.

“I give them the background behind that organization (ASAN), and then they understand why we participate in this,” Allen said. “Peeling shrimp was not their favorite thing, but once they found out what it was all about, they realized what it takes to get to that point.”

The microgreens used in the recipe were from an Alabama Power vertical farming system that is being tested at the Shelby County Airport. The students used sorrel, an herb with a tangy, acidic flavor.

“It’s a test so they can see the viability of that kind of farming,” Allen explained.

Allen expressed his appreciation to the Pelham City School Department for their support of the culinary program. He mentioned PHS Principal Amanda Wilbanks, Pelham City Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction Shannon Bogert and Superintendent Dr. Scott Coefield by name.

“We’ve probably got some of the best support from our program. They’re fully behind what we do,” Allen said, adding that programs like Graze give students a “real live experience.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do; give these students a leg up, we feel, when they go into the job market,” he said.