Serving more than just good food
Published 9:32 pm Friday, June 12, 2015
The kitchen is alive with activity as people in chef’s coats dash about working on last minute preparations.
Vegetables sizzle as they saute on the stove, the sweet smell of a cake wafts from the oven, and among the background noises a stand mixer can be heard whirring away.
While the sights, sounds and smells could be found in any restaurant in the country, this is actually a scene from The Bonnie Kate Kitchen, and most of those people darting about in chef’s coats are actually high school students taking part in a unique program.
In February of this year, Chef Em Nidiffer partnered with her friends, Cindy and Brian Higgs, who own The Bonnie Kate. The old theater had been the site of a cafe but the cafe closed last year. Nidiffer and the Higgs reopened the location with a new purpose – helping provide local youth with a creative outlet while also teaching them career and life skills. Thus, The Bonnie Kate Kitchen was born.
So far, the program has proven to be very popular, Nidiffer said. The Bonnie Kate Kitchen offers a Sunday brunch buffet and just this month started opening for lunch during the week. The students learn and work under the guidance of Nidiffer, who serves as the head chef, and Sous Chef Cassidy Hughes.
The students are enjoying the chance to learn new skills through the program.
“I want to go to culinary school,”said Macey Davis, a 17-year-old rising senior at Hampton High School. “This is a great thing to do before college to see if I really like it.”
“I want to be a pastry chef,” she said, adding that she enjoys baking.
Her favorite thing to bake? “Pineapple Upside Down Cake,” she said with a smile.
However, the culinary arts aren’t her only interest, Davis also has an interest in nursing and will be taking a Certified Nursing Assistant class during her senior year.
“This will give me the opportunity to see which one I like better or if I like them both,” she said.
For 16-year-old David Floyd, the program provided him with the opportunity to dig deeper into his interest in cooking.
“I just wanted to see how I would like cooking and see if I wanted to do it when I got older,” the upcoming junior at Cloudland High School said.
After taking part in the program, Floyd said he would like to become a chef some day.
While grilling is his favorite cooking technique, Floyd also has a love for baking. “I like the math in it,” he said. “That makes it fun for me.”
And just what is this grill master’s favorite thing to prepare? “Oreo Cake,” he said after a moment of thought.
Cooking is a bit of a family tradition for Kenny Wagoner, who at the age of 15 is the program’s youngest participant.
The rising Cloudland High School sophomore also wants to be a chef one day.
“I’ve always loved food,” he said. “I love cooking and have always been interested in the culinary arts.”
One of his favorite tasks at The Bonnie Kate Kitchen is manning the chef’s omelette station because of the variety of flavors it provides. “Just being able to use whatever ingredients I can put my hands on,” he said.
While omelettes may be his favorite thing to make at the program, his favorite meal to prepare is one that has been in his family for generations – a sausage casserole.
“It’s kind of a secret recipe,” he said, with a laugh.
In addition to learning the skills needed to prepare meals in a restaurant, The Bonnie Kate Kitchen also provides the students with other life and career skills as well, Nidiffer said. Students also learn things such as how to dress for a job interview, professional conduct, resume building and interview skills.
On Fridays, the students spend time in the classroom. Then on Saturdays they practice in the kitchen with food preparation and cooking.
“Sunday is showtime,” Nidiffer said. “About 80 percent of what you see here is done by the kids.”
The students in the program set the tables, cook, maintain the buffet lines and work the restaurant floor helping patrons.
“These kids, I really can’t brag on them enough,” Nidiffer said. “This is their restaurant. They take so much pride in what they do.”
“The work ethic these kids have is unbelievable,” she added. “They inspire me.”
The students recently advanced in the program and earned their first chef coats, Nidiffer said, adding the students were very excited. The excitement over the accomplishment is one Nidiffer can understand.
“I remember when I got my first chef’s coat, I still have it,” she said. “It’s a is a sense of pride and accomplishment when they get it.”
The Bonnie Kate Kitchen is still accepting applications for the program as well as adult volunteers willing to help the students learn. The Kitchen also accepts donations of food and garden items as well as monetary donations.
The community has been great in supporting the program through donations, Nidiffer said. But, she added, she hopes to see more people coming to the restaurant for lunch during the week and brunch on the weekends to support the program in that way as well.
“That is taking something you do already, which is eating lunch, and making an impact,” Nidiffer said. “The money is going directly to youth in your community.”
For more information about The Bonnie Kate Kitchen, to sign up for the program or to make a donation, visit the program’s website at www.thebonniekate.com.