NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Ruth Dogai has found the culinary training program at New Rochelle High School beneficial in just her first year.
“They help me a lot to know how to cook and put stuff in,” said Dogai.
Dogai was one of twelve special-needs high school students who prepared an end of year feast to wrap up their year-long study on the different aspects of cooking.
Student John Lee said his classmates work together to complete every recipe they make.
“We always help each other,” said Lee.
The school district works in partnership with Don Coqui’s modified culinary arts program for special-needs students, Don Coqui Chefs at Work, to provide a community based work-study program for graduating students interested in culinary arts who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Two professional chefs from Don Coqui's and three New Rochelle teaching assistants help to improve students cooking abilities throughout the year with the goal of assisting them in finding work in preparing food in restaurants after they graduate.
Students work with Chef Armando Elisea to learn social and life skills, nutrition, how to place meals on a menu, what each ingredient and cooking tool they use is, how to prepare food, how to properly slice food, proper food handling, science and math associated with food preparation, how to select food, how to clean up after they create a meal, and assistance with helping them overcome unhealthy eating habits.
Elisea said students thoroughly enjoy learning about culinary arts.
“They’re interested in it. They love it,” he said.
Some students also work in Sound Shore Medical Center’s dietary department after they leave, or find work elsewhere in an area that interests them.
“It’s been successful in helping students gain employment,” said Greg Lau, school district case manager and transition coordinator.
One student was able to find work at Applebee's.
“They can use their transferrable skills to gain different types of employment,” said Lau.
Lau also said the students are able to gain confidence through the six year old program.
“Their self-esteem improves, and they get a sense of pride that they can create a meal,” said Lau.