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CATEC annual Thanksgiving tradition gives students hands-on experience

Harry Sedwick has helped cook his family’s Thanksgiving dinner for the last three years, but this year, he had a hand in making turkey and an array of other holiday staples for many other families, thanks to the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.

Sedwick and other culinary arts students at CATEC spent the last week mashing 200 pounds of potatoes, braising 40 pounds of brussel sprouts, and baking more than 50 pumpkin pies. For nearly 20 years, CATEC culinary arts students have annually sold pies or full Thanksgiving meals — the proceeds of which go back to the program — but the tradition took a break last year because of the pandemic.

“It’s been a lot of cooking,” Sedwick said, adding that he enjoyed it. “We were doing a lot of prep. It’s a lot of food.”

Community members could pick from one of four catering packages that cost $50 to $85 and serve eight people. Three of the packages included sliced turkey breasts and all had a range of sides. Dessert options were pumpkin pie and flourless chocolate cake. CATEC sold out in less than two weeks after pre-ordering opened, said Amanda Jay, coordinator of marketing and career development for CATEC.

Thanksgiving, regardless of what’s on the menu, is the largest cooking event that the students do.

“We’re very grateful to all of the local community members who are supporting our students and our programs, and we’re excited that we’d be able to bring this back this year,” Jay said.

In recent years, CATEC students focused on pies for Thanksgiving. In 2019, they cooked up 100 pumpkin and apple pies. Jay said the tradition originally started with a more expansive catering menu.

“The catering used to be quite a large event and then it got scaled back over the years,” she said. “… I think that our two instructors were ambitious in wanting to bring back that CATEC tradition of what it has been and reinvent what that catering event can look like.”

Culinary instructors Christina Rizzo and Joshua Davis oversaw the cooking process. Students started making the sides last week and the turkeys were the last item to go into the oven.

Order pick-up started Monday evening and continued all-day Tuesday. Jay said they planned to take 30 orders and made more meals to go to families in need.

Jay said the culinary team picked 30 to ensure they could provide high quality meals to their customers and because of concerns that all the needed ingredients, especially turkeys, would be available.

The event gives students hands-on learning experience and the opportunity to interact with the community, Jay said. During the planning and cooking process, the culinary arts students learn menu planning skills along with prepping and cooking logistics. Then, they also have to figure out how to store the food, package it for the customers and distribution.

“Preparing for these sorts of events is really important for them to look at not just small scale cooking but also large scale opportunities that they get a chance to cook for a diverse population, and really go through the process of preparing a full meal,” Jay said. “That is a compliment to their traditional curriculum.”

Sedwick said he learned teamwork skills while cooking up the Thanksgiving meals. His favorite dish to make was the sweet potato casserole.

“It was a lot of active work with peeling and mashing the potatoes,” he said. “… I’ll be looking for it again next year.”


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