With all the talk about Core Curriculum, cramming for tests, vying for college placement, and other stress-related school experiences, it’s more than a little refreshing to see East End students partaking in a real-life learning experience—and enjoying the process as much as the outcome. This is something celebrated educator and philosopher John Dewey would call Learning by Doing. Hayground School in Brigehampton counts Dewey’s educational philosophy as one of the cornerstones of its curriculum, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their apprenticeship program.
Each semester, the oldest students’ class (known as the Senior Learners Group, ages 12 to 14) spend eight weeks interning in real-life employment situations. Kids “apprentice” at an array of places, including the Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton, Bridge Gardens, Hampton Photo Arts, the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton and in Hayground’s own state-of-the-art on-campus kitchen. Jeff’s Kitchen, named for the beloved late owner of Nick & Toni’s, Jeff Salaway (who was also a co-founder and school parent), is the focal point of the school’s culinary arts and garden science programs. Kids learn science and math through work in the kitchen and garden, where food is grown and cooked by kids for kids, every day.
For the culinary arts apprenticeship, several of the senior learners learn professional culinary skills from East End chefs. On Tuesday, March 29, the entire Senior Learners class—13 students—cooked and served a sophisticated, locally sourced, and delicious dinner for parents and apprenticeship hosts, a “Thank You” dinner party for all those who supported them in their learning-by-doing curriculum.
I attended this special dinner as a food writer and as a parent: my 13 year old son, Liam, apprenticed this year with architect Nicole Adams and at the Bridgehampton library, and also helped cook and serve for the dinner. He also, with several classmates, helped film the culinary arts apprentice’s cinematic presentation of the evening, a mock Iron Chef episode. The hilarious and creative short film was shown while delicious hors d’oeuvres were passed around by students: mustardy deviled eggs, tiny roasted new potatoes stuffed with herbed Greek yogurt, and brie-infused puff pastry.
All the kids were visibly excited, proud, and a little nervous to impress. From start to finish, they had chosen their menu based on recipes given to them by their mentors—recipes they had never made before. In the weeks leading up to the dinner, the students had learned a variety of techniques, elements of which were related to the dinner recipes they chose. Arjun Achuthan and Scott O’Neill, who run Hayground’s culinary arts curriculum, helped organize the prep, while the students did all the cooking. A small crew of students set up the dining area— long banquet tables adorned with table linens, candles, and potted spring pansies. As guests sat down, the sun set in rose and golden rays through the large windows in the barn-like building; it was clear something magical was happening.
Joan Turturro of Orient Inn, Kim Dyla, Charley Query and Brian Futterman of Nick & Toni’s, Adam Johnson of Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, and Christian Mir and Elaine DiGiacomo of Stone Creek Inn were some of the mentors present at the dinner. During the apprenticeship, they had first worked with the students—Isabelle, Maura, Olivia, Sebastian, Charles, Madeline, Naya—on knife skills and kitchen safety and started off with easy dishes like soups. Eventually, recipes became more complicated; near the end, the group spent three days with Joan Tuturro making a cassoulet: stuffing their own pork sausage, cooking duck confit, making bread crumbs from their own Hayground bread.
Some of that bread ended up as croutons, sprinkled over a Good Water Farms microgreens Greek salad at the dinner. Served with the salad was Arctic char, broiled in individual ramekins atop thinly sliced lemon with leeks and cannellini beans. Desert featured red velvet cupcakes (regular and gluten-free), and miniature apple tarts. The guests were floored by both the seriousness with which the kids presented the dinner, and the excellence of the meal itself. But nicest of all was that everyone had a good time, as one should at a dinner party, with excellently prepared local food bringing together members of the community.
On the way home, I asked my son how he felt about the evening. “Good,” he said, looking exhausted but elated. “Did you try the fish?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “did you?” The boy who preferred nothing but grilled cheese for most of his life nodded, “I liked it. It was really good.” To which I added, “It really was.”