WESTERLY — Frankie Clifford cleaned and counted 130 whole mussels Friday morning for a recipe he’s never seen.
For the sophomore culinary arts student and his classmates, that’s the way it is when it comes to Westerly High School’s award-winning seafood chowder.
“It’s a little bit weird doing prep for a recipe you don’t know,” Clifford, 15, said, laughing. “But that’s part of the job. We get everything prepped and then after school, when all of us are gone, chef puts it all together.”
Chef Jamie Finkelstein, Westerly High’s culinary arts instructor, won’t tell a soul his recipe for seafood chowder, not even the students who help him prepare it.
He’ll spill only this: It’s a recipe that he inherited from a friend within the industry, and he has since modified it — a lot.
“It’s locked up in the vault,” said Finkelstein, 37, who has taught culinary arts at Westerly High for seven years. “It’ll never come out.”
While no one knows the recipe, Westerly High’s chowder is well known: It’s won the local Rotary Chowder Cook-Off two consecutive years. It’s also been entered in the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport and will make its debut at Chowderfest at Old Mystic Village in February.
In celebration of World Food Day on Wednesday, Finkelstein and several of his culinary arts students will feature the chowder at a Community Soup Supper at Tower Street Community Center.
Soup will be served from 4 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, and it’s free and open to the public.
The chowder will be one of three soups prepared and served by the students. Italian wedding, vegetarian minestrone and homemade bread are also on the menu.
“We wanted to be helpful and give back to the community,” senior culinary arts student Chloe Bell said. “Tower Street asked us to prepare the food for the event, and we didn’t want to say no.”
The Westerly Public Schools is playing host to the soup supper in honor of World Food Day, a nationwide celebration and movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food.
“Participating in events like the Community Soup Supper is a way for students to get out of the brick and mortar of a classroom and have a real world experience,” Finkelstein said.
His culinary arts program enrolled 60 students this semester, and hospitality has been added to the program of studies. This semester, 15 students are enrolled in hospitality. There are 15 students enrolled next semester, too.
“There are so many skills taught in hospitality, it’s so much more than serving and cleaning rooms,” Finkelstein said. “There’s accounting, design, human resources… so many things.”
Bell, 17, is taking both culinary and hospitality classes.
“This is what I want to do after high school,” said Bell, who spent time Friday cutting pasta for the minestrone soup. “I love everything about cooking and baking, the whole process.”
Students began preparing Wednesday’s soup supper this past week. They’re preparing 10 gallons of each soup.
Clifford will clean and count more mussels. Each bowl of seafood chowder must contain one.
“I’ve always been brought up around cooking, it’s why I have such an interest in it,” Clifford said. “Doing things like this are good because it’s helping people out.”