Chef Serves Students A Palate Full Of Flavors

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Chef Jorge de la Torre brought new taste sensations to the palates of culinary art students at Payson High School.

Cooking engages the senses.

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Getting ready to slice cucumbers, Carl McKenney, Justin Richardson and Nate Lewinson are students in the culinary arts class at Payson High School. They are watching the technique Chef Jorge de la Torre uses, before they cut their own cucumbers.

"You eat with your eyes first," de la Torre said.

Getting a pleasing meal from the kitchen to the table takes skills, so first he demonstrated the art of potato cutting on a peeled potato.

He placed a wet towel under his cutting board for safety. He let the potato roll to its natural stopping point on the board. Then, he began to cut the potato from the outside in.

"You can't get these nice cuts with a blunt knife," de la Torre told his audience of Payson High School students as he sliced a potato into centimeter-sized squares.

Uniform cuts mean the pieces cook evenly, so when a chef tests one piece, he knows if the entire batch ready.

Potatoes are inexpensive for inexperienced cooks to practice techniques.

In a restaurant kitchen, chefs save the odd shaped pieces to make mashed potatoes or stock.

"Can you fry the little pieces?" one student asked.

"Yes. You can serve them with quail eggs and small strips of bacon," de la Torre said.

"You can serve the dish in a dollhouse," he added. Many of the students laughed.

Where an education can take you

"People eat everywhere, in the worst of times, in the best of times and the culinary field can take you around the world," de la Torre said.

His culinary and business degrees allowed de la Torre to work in New York, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and California. He owned a restaurant in Vale, Colo.

He served interesting people such as Ross Perot, Princess Diana and, once, at a a fly fishing ranch, he served the San Francisco 49ers football team.

"I hope you are all going to college and not hopping in your car and working odd job to odd job. That might sound sexy, but it's not," he said.

De la Torre is currently the dean of Johnson & Wales University's Colorado campus.

"Get out there and go see what it is you are interested in, get online, check out the scholarships that are available. You can never get enough education," he said.

The chef visited the culinary class as part of the scholarship Justin Richardson won to JWU in 2006/7, when he was a freshman.

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Justin Richardson chops onions during a cooking demonstration in his honor by Chef Jorge de la Torre of Johnson and Wales University. Richardson, a freshman at Payson High School, recently won a national cooking contest.

"There are monster scholarships out there. They can be your ticket to following your dream," de la Torre said.

Roasted rack of lamb, white sweet potato frittatas, sautéed spinach with pine nuts and golden raisins and a red wine fig reduction sauce won Richardson his renewable scholarship.

"Enough of that, I want you to try chocolate by the end of the day," de la Torre said.

Next students tried their carving skills with radish mice, squash roses on a stick and cantaloupe lotuses, under de la Torre's watchful eyes.

Salt and chocolate

"Who has seen their grandparents salt watermelons or grapefruits?" he asked.

Several students affirmed they had.

"What does salt do?"

"It brings out the flavor of food," one student said.

Students lined up to try different finishing salts on watermelon slices.

There was red mineral salt from Hawaiian coral, salt from a river in Australia, fume salt that was smoked and stored in oak barrels, sea salt from Israel and black lava salt.

"Don't tell him not to eat the brown salt. Let him taste for himself," de la Torre told one girl.

Students also tested savory sweet combinations in several varieties of chocolate, including wasabi ginger and coconut curry.

"What I love about cooking is there is no stopping you. You get to venture," Ayla Hatfield said.

Hatfield is a senior at PHS. She said she plans to step up to the plate and enter Johnson & Wales' next chef of the year contest.

According to culinary teacher Devon Wells, several of her students may do so.

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