WOOD RIVER JCT. — The South County room at Chariho Tech is now open under new management and offering a new menu.
Chef Sara Reilly, who was the baking instructor last year, took over the program in the fall when Linda Musch retired. A veteran of restaurant kitchens, Reilly has brought a certain level of sophistication to the menu. Everything is made from scratch, even the rolls and the pasta. The pappardelle served Thursday for lunch was made by the students the day before.
“It really breaks down the skills, the techniques and the foods so the students not only learn the process of cooking, but they understand how the flavor is developed, how to make different ingredients come together to make one whole dish — how we get there, from the bottom to the top,” Reilly said. “It’s important to learn that, and it makes them a better cook, being able to understand how they get to that final product.”
Reilly and the students decide on the menus, which incorporate the culinary skills they are studying.
“Chef Reilly has brought a breath of fresh air to our culinary arts program,” Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said. “Her goal of connecting the week's instruction to the South County Room menu makes perfect sense.”
Ricci raved about a pulled-pork sandwich he had ordered the first day the restaurant reopened.
"If last week's specials are any indication of what's to come, we're all in for a treat,” he said. “Chef Reilly's emphasis on from-scratch entrees has enthused both students and patrons."
Gerry Auth, Chariho Tech's new director, agreed that Reilly was a good fit for the school.
“Her industry experience and her training have completely prepared her for success in this program,” he said. “She's got the experience that's right for this program. She works well with the kids and she has a great personality. It takes a strong personality to run a kitchen by yourself, and she's definitely demonstrated that she has the skills needed to do that.”
A former executive chef at Ellie's Bakery in Providence, Reilly lives in North Kingstown with her husband and five-month-old son. Running the culinary arts program is a natural fit, because she originally studied at Rhode Island College to be a teacher.
“I didn't finish,” she said. “I went to Johnson and Wales halfway through. I spent all my time cooking and baking.”
Senior Samantha Warriner has been in the culinary program for three years and is liking the changes.
“With her, we have a new set of eyes,” she said of Reilly. “We're learning different things. Everything is more efficient.”
Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie said he was pleased to see the changes Reilly had brought to the dining room.
“We're excited about Chef Reilly and the fresh food approach that she's brought to the menu,” he said. “It debuted last week, and the sandwiches, the presentation and the service were just outstanding, so we're very excited about what the future holds,” he said.
Lunches are priced at cost. The goal is not to make a profit, but to teach the students how to prepare and serve food and also show the community what the school has to offer.
“It's a great opportunity for us to showcase this one specific example of the career and tech program and how the kids are learning the skills that they need to work in an industry,” Auth said. “This is just one example of the many examples we have here at the center.”
The dining room is open Thursdays and Fridays from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.