The Curriculum of Cooking at Fatfish

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Students at the high school’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Career Academy received the hands-on learning experience of a lifetime on Sept. 28, when they were given the unique chance to partner with acclaimed Bay Shore restaurant Fatfish and its chef/owner Brian Valdini to offer a complimentary dinner to 55 guests including their family members, district administrators and Board members, and Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi.

Plans for the event were hatched in June, after Valdini had read about the Culinary Academy. Impressed with the program’s professionalism and ProStart model curriculum, he provided several students a paid internship opportunity for the summer, in which they learned about the restaurant’s operations, the everyday responsibilities of line cooks and chefs, and the job skills necessary for a career in the industry.

Valdini and his staff taught them about the wide range of ways to prepare vegetables, salads and different types of fish, and how to serve food to customers. The internships also provided the staff with an opportunity to learn. Several of the Career Academy students are deaf, and Valdini wanted all his staff to be able to communicate with them, so he posted a sign language chart on the wall, enabling every staff member to communicate in sign language to the students. The East Islip students’ performance was so exemplary that Valdini offered each of them – as well as all current and future Culinary Career Academy students – an upcoming paid internship at his restaurant. 

Before school resumed in September, Valdini proposed a special educational restaurant experience for the Career Academy students, in which they would learn how to run a restaurant for a day and prepare a three-course meal from scratch, supervised by himself, two of his chefs, and his staff, who volunteered to work that evening to support the students. Valdini offered to open his restaurant on a Monday so the students could experience a real restaurant operation and invite their families to be their guests.

The 11 participating students arrived at 9 a.m. for a tour of the restaurant and its layout, followed by menu planning and instruction. An hour later, they began prep for the day’s menus, which included such dishes as salmon rillettes, roasted butternut squash soup, chicken Paillard, shrimp fettuccine and apple tarte Tatin. The students scheduled all the reservations for the evening and served as hosts by bringing the guests to their tables. In the kitchen, students prepared all of the dishes, working as line cooks. Students were also responsible for the front-end dining room operation, including setting tables, bringing water to each table, taking orders and serving the food.

“The parents were delighted with the opportunity to watch their children operate a restaurant for one evening,” said Israel Malinowitzer, the Career Academy director. “Chef Brian’s generosity went far beyond anyone’s expectations, and he enabled these students to see first-hand what it takes to work in the culinary world and how important it is to have good customer relation skills if you want to bring people back to your establishment on a regular basis. The students worked closely with the staff at Fatfish and formed a special bond that will help give them the confidence to excel.”

“I was very proud to be a part of this,” said Board President Philip Montuori Sr., who enjoyed a delicious dinner prepared and served by his district’s students. “The food and service were outstanding.”

Valdino is already looking ahead to hiring East Islip’s students for internships at Fatfish beginning next spring.  

“These students were very fortunate to work with a mentor as special as Chef Brian, who truly cares about children and is committed to be even more involved in helping future students to be successful,” said Malinowitzer.